Russia nixes Syria action even as UN reports new killings

Russia insisted Wednesday that new action against its ally Syria would be premature even as the UN peacekeeping chief told of the discovery of 13 bodies, apparently killed execution-style.

Herve Ladsous, a UN under secretary general, gave the UN Security Council a "sombre" account of both the latest killings in the eastern town of Assukar and of last week's massacre near the central town of Houla in which more than 100 people died, mostly women and children, diplomats said.

Many Western governments ordered out senior Syrian diplomats on Tuesday in an apparently coordinated protest at the Houla killings but Russia slammed the move as "counter-productive."

The UN observer mission chief in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, said he was "deeply disturbed" by the latest killings in Assukar, calling it an "appalling and inexcusable act."

"Thirteen bodies were discovered last night (Tuesday) in the area of Assukar, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Deir Ezzor," the veteran Norwegian peacekeeper said.

"All the bodies had their hands tied behind their backs and some appear to have been shot in the head from a short distance," he added.

The bodies were found days after UN observers counted the bodies of at least 108 civilians near Houla, apparently killed in a government artillery barrage and a follow-up assault by loyalist militia.

Among them were 49 children and 34 women. Some were blown to bits by artillery and tank fire but most were summarily executed, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Syrian forces launched a new assault on Wednesday on the site of last week's Houla massacre, forcing villagers to flee heavy shelling in fear of more carnage, a watchdog and the opposition said.

Machinegun fire was followed in the afternoon by shelling that targeted the village of Taldu, near Houla, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"People are fleeing Taldu to other parts of Houla," the Britain-based Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. "They are very afraid."

The Syrian opposition called for UN observers to rush to the area to protect residents.

"People are calling in distress following the regime's brutal attack on their community, especially after the army's withdrawal of roadblocks, which usually signals the beginning of attacks," said the Syrian National Council, the main opposition coalition.

Syrian allies China and Russia, which have both blocked previous attempts at the Security Council to condemn the government of Bashar al-Assad, joined other council members on Sunday in approving a statement condemning last week's artillery bombardment of civilians.

US ambassador Susan Rice Rice told reporters at the United Nations that prospects for a political solution in Syria were now almost non-existent, and that the Security Council must now discuss new action.

"That pressure could include sanctions of the sort that have been alluded to and discussed, and we were among those that raised that possibility," she said.

But Russia insisted that the weekend's rebuke went far enough.

"We believe that a review now by the Security Council of any new measures on the situation would be premature," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.

"It is essential to give the plan of (UN-Arab League envoy) Kofi Annan time to work," because intervention could "only exacerbate the situation for both Syria and the region as a whole," he told Interfax news agency.

The United States warned Russia and other backers of Syria they were on the wrong side of history.

"We are in regular consultations with the Russians and others about what we are seeing happening in Syria and the need to put further pressure on the Assad regime," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"I would simply say that it is our belief, and it's the belief that we express in these conversations, that supporting the Assad regime is placing oneself or one's nation on the wrong side of history."

A furious statement from the opposition's Syrian National Council accused Moscow of "trying to prevent an international condemnation" of President Assad.

The exile group said Russia was providing the regime with political cover, "encouraging it to continue committing savage crimes that target civilians, including women and children."

Moscow's stance and the "weapons the Russian government has given the Syrian regime... has turned Moscow into an accomplice with the regime in an attempt to spark a civil war," it added.

On Tuesday alone, according to the Syrian Observatory, a total of 98 people were killed across Syria with another 62 dying violently on Wednesday.

More than 13,000 people have been killed, mostly civilians, since an uprising erupted against Assad's regime in March 2011, according to the watchdog's figures.

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