Claims and counterclaims of brutal civilian killings in Syria's battered central city of Homs emerged on Monday, a day after a U.N. envoy ended two days of meetings with President Bashar al-Assad without securing a deal to end the nearly year-old conflict.

Activist groups said a dozen and possibly as many as 45 people, including children, died overnight. Activist videos posted online purported to attest to the killing and mutilation of children, and at least six dead adults were shown covered with sheets and blood-stained blankets.

But, in a counterclaim reflecting a propaganda war accompanying the bloody crackdown on dissent, the SANA state news agency Monday accused “the terrorist armed groups” of responsibility.

“The terrorist armed groups have kidnapped scores of civilians in the city of Homs, central Syria, killed, and mutilated their corpses and filmed them to be shown by media outlets,” SANA said. “A media source asserted that the footage of the corpses presented by some satellite TV stations belong to the civilians, who were kidnapped by the terrorist armed groups.”

The Syrian government routinely refers to its opponents, including armed men, army defectors and protesters, as terrorists.

The conflicting versions agreed only on one point: that more civilians had died, adding to the U.N. estimate of some 7,500 since the crackdown began a year ago in what has become the bloodiest of the Arab uprisings.

Separately, Reuters quoted activists as saying a car bomb exploded on Monday at a school in the southern city of Daraa, killing a schoolgirl and wounding 25 others.

The continued bloodletting, including heavy shelling reported over the weekend in the northern province of Idlib, offered a grim backdrop to the just-ended mission of the peace envoy, Kofi Annan, a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, whose efforts to seek a negotiated settlement were endorsed by both the United Nations and the Arab League.

As he left Syria, he said he remained optimistic about the possibility of an agreement, but he acknowledged the difficulties.

“You have to start by stopping the killing and the misery and the abuse that is going on today and then give time for a political settlement,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “It's going to be difficult, but we have hope.” — New York Times News Service

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