Activists claim Syria death toll above 90

A Syrian government soldier stands guard as a U.N. observers' car is seen in the Damascus suburb of Douma, Syria, Sunday, May 20, 2012.
AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman

(AP) BEIRUT - Activists on Saturday raised the number of those killed in an alleged massacre by Syrian regime forces in a region in the center of the country to more than 90.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 90 people had been killed in the Houla area in the 24 hours since midday Friday.

A local activist giving his name as Abu Yazan reached via Skype said 12 people died in shelling and 106 were killed when pro-regime thugs known as shabiha stormed the area.

That death toll is one of the highest for any single event since the popular uprising against Bashar Assad began in March 2011. The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians.

The new violence in Houla is also a further blow to a U.N. peace plan for Syria that was supposed to start with a cease-fire between government troops and rebels on April 12 but has never really taken hold.

More than 250 U.N. observers are now deployed in Syria to oversee the truce, and a spokesman for the team said Saturday that observers were heading to Houla.

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A local activist reached via Skype said regime forces started shelling the village of Houla, about 25 miles northwest of the city of Homs in west-central Syria following an anti-regime demonstration following Muslim prayers on Friday. Twelve people were killed in the shelling, said the activist, who gave his name as Abu Yazan.

Later, pro-regime thugs known as shabiha stormed the village of Taldaw, just south of Houla, raiding homes and shooting at civilians.

"They killed entire families, from parents on down to children, but they focused on the children," he said.