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Syrians killed with 'bullets in the head'

A total of 98 people, including 61 civilians, were killed in fresh violence in Syria, as clashes raged between regime troops and rebels, monitors said.

The high daily toll on Tuesday also included 28 government troops and nine rebel fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as the country descends towards civil war.

This figure included the latest 'massacre,' in which 13 civilians died in the north-west Deir region, the London-based observatory's head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP by telephone.

The victims 'were executed with a bullet in the head, according to first reports from the region,' he said, urging UN observers on the ground to probe the alleged atrocity and identify the perpetrators.

The fresh violence came as international envoy Kofi Annan urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to 'act now' to end 15 months of bloodshed, warning that the country had reached a 'tipping point' as Western governments ordered out its top diplomats.

The apparently coordinated expulsion orders issued by the European Union, the United States and other governments, including Australia, Canada and Switzerland, was in response to the killing of at least 108 people, nearly half of them children, during an assault by pro-government forces in Houla last week.

Most of Tuesday's violence took the form of bombardments or clashes between the Syrian army and rebel forces, the Syrian observatory said.

More than 13,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March last year, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

The US on Wednesday ruled out military intervention in Syria 'at this point' of time, but called for an immediate political transition in the Arab country.

'We believe a political transition is essential in Syria,' White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, hours after the US expelled the top Syrian diplomat from Washington, working in coordination with its allies.

Carney, however, said White House did not perceive any military action in Syria at this point of time. 'It would not be the right course of the action,' he added.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said these remarks did mean that the US had backed off its position that military intervention risks doing more harm than good. 

Pentagon has not been asked to provide for military options in Syria, he said.

'When it comes to military options, again, the focus remains on the diplomatic and economic track. But at the end of the day, we in the Department of Defense have a responsibility to look at the full spectrum of options and to make them available if they're requested,' he told reporters.

'The policy of the United States remains to focus, with our international partners, on applying diplomatic and economic pressure on the Assad regime to try to convince them that they are pursuing a reckless, inhumane and deplorable course of action,' Little said.

Meanwhile, Russia said on Wednesday it was 'premature' for the UN Security Council to take new action on Syria after the massacre of 108 civilians in the city of Houla.

'We believe that a review now by the Security Council of any new measures on the situation would be premature,' Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.

Gatilov's comments came a day after the US State Department said it hoped the Houla tragedy would spark a 'turning point' in Russia's reluctance to take tougher action against its Soviet-era ally.

Russia and China had previously blocked two Security Council resolutions condemning President Bashar al-Assad.

However, Iran has sent its troops to help the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fight opposition forces, a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has said. 

'Before our presence in Syria, too many people were killed by the opposition but with the physical and non-physical presence of the Islamic republic, big massacres in Syria were prevented,' said Ismail Gha'ani, deputy head of the Quds force, a branch of the Revolutionary Guards in charge of overseas operations.
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