BEIRUT - International mediator Kofi Annan said on Monday he was horrified by the killings in the Syrian town of Houla and urged the Syrian government to take bold steps to show it was serious about reaching a peaceful solution to the country's crisis.

Speaking shortly after arriving in Damascus, Annan said he expected to have "serious and frank discussions" with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The two men are due to meet on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Foreign Ministry.

Annan said the killing of 108 people in Houla was "an appalling crime, and the (UN) Security Council has rightly condemned it." Western countries have blamed Assad's forces for the killings, a charge Damascus denies.

"I urge the (Syrian) government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process," Annan told reporters on his arrival in Damascus.

"And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun."

Annan brokered a ceasefire agreement last month which was aimed at stemming the violence in Syria after a year of protests against Assad and starting a process of political negotiations.

But hundreds of people have been reported killed since the truce was supposed to come into effect on April 12.



On Monday, an opposition group reported that the Syrian army's bombardment of the city of Hama has killed at least 41 people in the past 24 hours.

Syrian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles opened fire on several neighborhoods of Hama on Sunday after a series of attacks by rebel Free Syrian Army fighters on roadblocks and other positions manned by Assad's forces, opposition sources said.

The dead included five women and eight children, the Hama Revolution leadership Council said in a statement. The report could not be independently verified.

On Sunday, the United Nations unanimously condemned the killing of at least 108 people over the weekend, including many children, in Houla, a sign of mounting outrage at the massacre that the government and rebels blamed on each other.

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Western and Arab states opposed to Assad put the blame for the deaths squarely on the government, but Damascus rejected the charge and blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the bloodshed.

China condemned the violence but stopped short of blaming Assad's forces for the killings.

Russia also decried the violence, but placed responsibility equally on both sides to the conflict. "We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a joint news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood called on "Arab, Islamic and international governments ... and the people of the free world to intervene to stop these massacres, especially after the failure of international forces and international monitoring to stop them," spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said in a statement.

Ghozlan also called on Syrians to put aside their differences and unite to "bring down the regime, make the revolution succeed and free the heroic Syrian people".

He said the Syrian government's crimes were worse than those of Genghis Khan, a warrior who founded the Mongol empire in the 13th century.

Iran said the killings had been carried out in order to spread chaos and instability in Syria and block peace efforts.

"We are certain that foreign interference, terrorist and suspicious measures which have targeted the resilient Syrian people are doomed to fail," the website of the state television network, Press TV, quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.

Iran's parliament blamed the United States and other Western countries for arming and training what it described as "terrorists", the Iranian state news agency reported on Monday.

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