A human rights group monitoring events in Syria claims it had evidence of the worst massacre yet by the regime of President Bashir al-Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has chronicled deaths on both sides during the nine month-long uprising, said a witness had seen the bodies of 34 people dumped in a public square in the restive city of Homs.
It said the 34 had all been seized from anti-Assad neighbourhoods in the city by the shabiha – unofficial militias loyal to and armed by the regime.
The bodies had been left in the pro-regime district of Al-Zahra, it said.
More than 4,000 people have been killed in the uprising, with an increasing number of regime soldiers being killed by armed insurgents as the country drifts towards civil war.
The regime itself continues to send out contradictory messages about its strategy. On Sunday, it sent a letter to the Arab League agreeing to allow Arab League observers into the country in an attempt to ward off a severe new sanctions regime.
The country would sign a League proposal "soon", a foreign ministry spokesman said. But the letter was also said to contain significant new demands by the Syrians which make it unlikely that any deal will be agreed in the near future.
Syrian state media said it demanded an immediate lifting of sanctions, "prior co-ordination" with the authorities in Damascus on what the observers would do and see, and pre-notification of all the observers' personal backgrounds. In addition it sought a guarantee that they would not also visit refugee camps in Turkey.
The Arab League imposed sanctions on Syria a week ago in response to its refusal to implement an Arab League peace deal, of which sending observers into the country was only a part.
Nabil al-Arabi, the Arab League secretary-general, said he had received the Syrian letter and was consulting with member governments. But the conditions set by Syria would make it difficult for countries like Qatar, which have pushed for tough action against the regime of President Bashir al-Assad, to accept.
Outside his own circle of international allies, there is increasing hostility and bafflement directed towards Mr Assad's refusal to meet the demands of an organisation of which he was until recently a leading light.
"Assad has no room for manoeuvre. Whoever joins a manoeuvring game has to hold strings. But someone holding a thread is better advised to use it as a lifeline," wrote Nayla Tueni, the managing director of the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, traditionally hostile to Syria.