Damascus: Atleast 90 people including 25 children were killed across Syria on Saturday, monitors said, as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets and tanks were deployed in the country's second largest city.

The latest flare-up of violence came as Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria who brokered a repeatedly-violated ceasefire last month, finalised plans to return to Damascus.

Diplomats in Geneva said the former UN secretary general would visit the Syrian capital early next week.

Over 50 civilians, including 13 children, were killed in Army shelling of Houla, a town in the central province of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"It was a real massacre that took place and the UN observers are just staying silent," the head of the monitoring group, Rami Abdel Rahman, said in a telephone call.

For the first time since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted 14 months ago, army tanks rumbled through Aleppo, said the Britain-based watchdog.

It also said helicopter gunships went into action against rebels, strafing mountain villages in the Latakia area of northwestern Syria, near the Turkish border, wounding at least 20 people.

At least four policemen were killed in clashes with rebels in Kansebba, in the same area, the Observatory added. Hours after massive anti-regime rallies across Aleppo, tanks deployed in the city, Syria's economic hub, rumbling through the Kalasse and Bustan al-Kasr neighbourhoods after thousands attended a funeral, it said.

Earlier the group reported that a young man was killed in Aleppo when troops fired with live rounds and tear gas on protesters in the city, where 12 massive anti-regime rallies took place on Friday.

"Long live Syria! Down with Assad!" demonstrators chanted at the funeral, said the watchdog.


Meanwhile, UN observers rushed to the town in central Syria where scores of civilians were reportedly massacred.

"A team of UN observers arrived in the village of Taldau (outside) Houla, to document the crimes committed in the past 24 hours, in violation of the ceasefire," the rights watchdog said, adding that explosions and gunfire could be heard.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned the massacre and said he was "making immediate arrangements for a Friends of Syria group meeting in Paris."

He spoke after the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) again called for Friends of Syria nations to launch air strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Turkey-based General Mustafa Ahmed al-Sheikh, head of the FSA's military council, urged "an appropriate stance after the heinous crime committed by Assad's assassin regime in the Houla region."

"We are calling urgently on the Friends of Syria to create a military alliance, outside of the UN Security Council, to carry out targeted strikes against Assad's gangs and the symbols of his regime," he said.

Amateur videos posted on YouTube showed horrifying images of children lying dead on a floor. Some corpses were badly mangled, with at least one child's head partly blown away.

The Britain-based Observatory accused the international community of being "complicit" in the killing and standing "silent in the face of the massacres committed by the Syrian regime."

Earlier, opposition Syrian National Council spokeswoman Basma Kodmani said "more than 110 people were killed (half of whom are children) by the Syrian regime's forces" in Houla.

"Some of the victims were hit by heavy artillery while others, entire families, were massacred."

"The Syrian National Council urges the UN Security Council to call for an emergency meeting to examine the situation in Houla and to determine the responsibility of the United Nations in face of such mass killings, expulsions and forced migration from entire neighbourhoods," she added.

State news agency SANA blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the killings, adding that "clashes led to the killing of several terrorists and the martyrdom of several members of the special forces."


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