Evidence was found to support reports from Syria of a massacre this week in which at least 100 people were killed and burned in their homes.
The village of Haswiya, on the edge of the central city of Homs, charred bodies still lying inside one of the houses. Government soldiers said all the bodies had been taken away and blamed Islamist militants fighting with the rebels. But villagers said that the army had been present at the time of the deaths.
In a separate development on Friday, a Belgian-born French journalist was shot dead in the northern city of Aleppo, opposition activists said. The Aleppo Media Centre blamed a "regime sniper" for killing Yves Debay, although one activist said it was not clear who was responsible.
Meanwhile, a rocket hit a building in another district of Aleppo. State media blamed "terrorists", but activists said it was an air strike. There were also two car bombings in the southern city of Deraa.
Smeared with blood
Reports of a massacre at Haswiya emerged on Thursday from opposition and human rights activists, but they could not be verified immediately. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said women and children had been among 106 people killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Three charred bodies lay sprawled just inside one house - a trail of blood stained the cement. Some of the dead were "burnt inside their homes while others were killed with knives" and other weapons, the UK-based activist group said. He added that there were reports that "whole families were executed, one of them made up of 32 members."
"In the kitchen, where china teacups sat neatly on a shelf, more than a dozen bullet casings were scattered across a floor smeared with blood. In another room, two more burnt corpses were curled up next to a broken bed."
"This needs to be investigated by the United Nations," said Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the UK-based activist group.
However, a government official in Damascus denied reports of a massacre.
The inhabitants of Haswiya, still visibly shocked, the told that at least 100 people were killed that day. Soldiers said hundreds of men from a militant Islamist rebel group, the al-Nusra Front, committed the killings. The woman told the the same things. But out of earshot of the official Syrian minders, another woman said the army was present at the time and that some soldiers even apologised for the murders, saying others had acted without orders.
The SOHR said all of the dead appeared to be Sunni Muslims, who make up a majority of the population and have been at the forefront of the revolt against the state during the 22-month conflict that the UN says has left more than 60,000 people dead.
The area around Haswiya witnessed clashes earlier this week between government forces and rebels. The pro-government newspaper al-Watan said troops had advanced in the countryside around Homs, "cleansing the villages of Haswiya and Dweir, as well as their fields" of gunmen.