U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the violence in Syria is "simply unconscionable" and has renewed U.S. calls for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.
Clinton spoke on June 7 after reports quoted Syrian activists as saying up to 80 people, including many women and children, had been killed in Hama Province.
Activists said about 20 children and 20 women were among those who died in the villages of Al-Qubair and Maarzaf on June 6, in what they called a "massacre."
Damasus called the allegations “completely false.”
The Local Coordination Committees said at least 78 had died in Al-Qubair alone, bringing the total number of people killed nationwide by security forces to 140.
Activists said Al-Qubair came under shelling from security forces, but that much of the killing was done by pro-government militiamen.
Reports said many people were shot at close range and stabbed.
Some of the bodies were reportedly burned in houses, while others were taken away.
In a statement on official television, the government denied the allegations, saying: "A terrorist group committed a heinous crime in the Hama region which claimed nine victims.”
The reports could not be independently confirmed.
They come less two weeks after 108 people were killed in the town of Houla in Homs province.
'Assad Must Go'
Speaking at a news conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul, where she attended an international antiterrorism conference, Clinton said Washington did not believe that Syria can be peaceful, stable, or democratic until Assad leaves power.
Clinton said Western and allied Arab countries agree that the solution to the Syrian crisis starts with Assad resigning and leaving the country, allowing an interim government to be formed.
The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed since an uprising against the Assad regime began 15 months ago.
Meanwhile, the United States called on world governments to exert “maximum financial pressure” on Assad’s government to force him to relinquish power.
At a meeting in Washington of the Friends of the Syrian People, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gave U.S. backing to a call made by the Arab League for invoking Chapter VII of the UN charter, which authorizes member states to take "all necessary measures" to carry out Security Council decisions.
And at a meeting in Istanbul, Secretary of State Clinton told Western and Arab nations that a transition strategy in Syria must include Assad's full transfer of power.
A senior State Department official said Clinton had also told officials from regional and European powers that transition in Syria must include a fully representative interim government that would lead to free and fair elections.
But the Chinese and Russian governments reiterated their strong opposition to any intervention in Syrian domestic affairs.
A joint statement released in Beijing after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Chinese leaders said, "Russia and China are decisively against attempts to regulate the Syrian crisis with outside military intervention, as well as imposing...a policy of regime change.”
Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP