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24 Reported Dead In Syria Violence

A thick plume of smoke rises above an oil refinery, situated to the west of the flashpoint city of Homs, following the blast on December 8.
Syria's opposition is warning of a "massacre" by government troops in Homs province, as the death toll in a government crackdown on December 9 against protesters around the country climbed to at least 24.

Activists say at least 18 people in Homs were killed in the violence. They say that others were killed when security forces fired on demonstrations in the provinces of Hama, Idlib and Daraa.

The United Nations estimates more than 4,000 people have been killed since protests against Assad's regime began nine months ago.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the UN is not a credible source of information. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon struck back on December 9 by insisting that the UN figure of more than 4,000 killed is "very credible."

Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said after a meeting in Vienna on December 9 with the main Syrian opposition leader-in-exile, Burhan Ghalioun, that Assad must step down immediately and be held accountable at an international level for human rights abuses in Syria.

Elsewhere, the United States said it was "extremely concerned" by reports that Syria plans a large-scale attack against the flashpoint city of Homs and urged the regime to let in independent monitors.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland warned Assad that he would be responsible for any further deaths.

She reiterated calls by the Arab League for Syria to let in monitors and also urged the regime to permit international media to travel in the country to see the situation first-hand.

compiled from agency reports