BEIRUT: Thirteen bound corpses, many apparently shot execution-style, have been discovered in eastern Syria, U.N. observers said Wednesday, days after the massacre of more than 100 people provoked international outrage and the coordinated expulsion of Syrian diplomats from world capitals.
The latest killings happened in Deir el-Zour province, where the bodies were found late Tuesday blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs. A statement by the U.N. mission said some appeared to have been shot in the head at close range.
The head of the U.N. observer team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, said he was “deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act.”
The fresh killings underline violence that seems to be spiraling out of control as the uprising against President Bashar Assad that began in March 2011 has morphed into an armed insurgency. Activists say as many as 13,000 people have been killed since the revolt began.
In the wake of last weekend’s massacre in Houla, in which nearly half of the 108 dead were children, the United States and Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats in protest — a move Syria’s state-run media denounced Wednesday as “unprecedented hysteria.”
The massacre drew continued harsh criticism Wednesday, even from Syria’s closest ally Iran, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying that anyone responsible for the killings should be punished. “I’m not excluding anyone from this responsibility,” Ahmadinejad told France 24 TV station.
U.N. investigators and survivors have blamed pro-regime gunmen for at least some of the carnage in Houla, a collection of poor farming villages in central Homs province, saying men in civilian clothes gunned down people in the streets and stabbed women and children in their homes. The Syrian government denied its troops were behind the killings and blamed “armed terrorists.”
Meanwhile, violence continued unabated. Syrian forces bombarded rebel-held areas and clashed with army defectors in Homs province, killing at least eight people, activists said.
The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria ordered top Syrian diplomats to leave on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Turkey, joined the coordinated diplomatic action, saying it ordered personnel at the Syrian Embassy in Ankara to leave the country within 72 hours.