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Rebel Syrian army calls for retaliation

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(CNN) — The Syrian government vehemently denied Sunday it was behind a massacre that left at least 85 people dead, and it accused world leaders of conspiring against the regime.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said he addressed the media Sunday “to make a clear stance against the tsunami of lies.”

“We deny that the Syrian armed forces were responsible of what took place in Houla,” where the United Nations said at least 32 young children were slaughtered in an attack Friday, he said.

Makdissi also accused some U.N. countries of “openly working against Syria” and refuted the notion of an armed opposition in the country.

“There is no armed opposition in Syria. There is either an intellectual opposition, and we welcome their participation in national dialogue, or there are armed terrorist gangs that refuse the political resolution,” Makdissi said.

But opposition activists and many world leaders say President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been lethally cracking down on dissidents seeking an end to the al-Assad family’s 42-year rule.

U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan is scheduled to visit Syria on Monday, Makdissi said. Annan’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Annan brokered a six-point peace plan two months ago and both sides agreed to it. But members of the rebel Free Syrian Army said the Annan plan is “dead,” with some rebels vowing to retaliate against government forces after Friday’s massacre.

“After such a long wait, a test of patience and steadfastness, the joint command of the FSA inside Syria announces that it is no longer possible to abide by the peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan, (which) the regime is taking advantage of in order to commit more massacres against our unarmed civilians,” Free Syrian Army spokesman Col. Qasim Saad Eddine said in a video posted Saturday.

A cessation of violence is a key point of the peace plan. But since the Syrian regime and opposition members accepted the plan in March, at least 1,635 people have been killed, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said Saturday.

International outrage grew amid new details on the attack in Houla, where at least 32 children younger than 10 were killed on Friday, said Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria. He said observers counted a total of at least 85 bodies.

Opposition activists said entire families were slaughtered by government forces in Houla, as the regime’s 14-month crackdown on dissidents continues unabated.

“This is a clear evidence that Kofi Annan’s plan is dead and a clear indication that Bashar Assad and his criminal gang do not understand anything but the language of force and violence,” Eddine said. He urged the U.N. Security Council to “issue urgent and swift resolutions to save Syria, its people and the entire region by forming an international coalition mandated by the UNSC to launch airstrikes” against regime forces and their strategic points.

While opposition activists put the blame squarely on al-Assad’s regime, the Syrian government blamed regional and Western “enemies” for the Houla massacre.

Syria activists report a massacre

“The Houla massacres are an integral part of the so-called intelligence war — or the psychological warfare — against Syria,” said Jamal al-Mahmoud of the state-run Department of Political Science at Damascus University, according to the state-run Tishreen newspaper. “It is a policy carried out the enemies of Syria such as the United States, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and France to stage acts of revenge and to create chaos instead of restoring the security and the stability that the Syrian citizen needs.”

Sunday, Syrian state-run TV said residents in Houla reported “terrorists from al Qaeda” carried out the violence in Houla. The Syrian regime has accused Western countries and Arab oil-rich Gulf states of conspiring with al Qaeda to attack Syria.

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Several world leaders — including Mood, Annan and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — have denounced the killings in Houla, a suburb not far from the anti-Assad bastion of Homs.

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But to many, words have no effect.

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“No more initiatives, no more proposals, no more political resolutions after today,” said Eddine, the Free Syrian Army spokesman.

“We call on our fighters, the soldiers and the revolutionaries, to conduct organized and planned military strikes against Assad battalions and regime members,” Brig. Gen. Mustafa Al-Sheikh, a top leader in the rebel group, said in a video statement posted on YouTube.

A graphic video posted on YouTube purports to show the lifeless bodies of small children killed in Houla. They are spread on the floor amid blankets, caked in blood. One child is turned to reveal a head wound.

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CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of the video, nor can it confirm reports from within the country because the government strictly limits access by foreign journalists.

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Lt. Bassim al-Khaled, a spokesman of the rebel Free Syrian Movement, said more bloodshed is coming. The al-Assad government is using the cease-fire and peace plan “to kill more people and is trying to crush the uprising,” al-Khaled said.

“So the only language this regime is going to understand is the language of the gun,” al-Khaled said. “Wait and see, we will make them pay for each drop of blood which was shed.”

U.N. officials say more than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, have died and tens of thousands have been uprooted since the uprising began in March 2011. Opposition groups report a death toll of more than 11,000 people.

CNN’s Saad Abedine, Holly Yan, Mohammed Jamjoom, Omar Al Muqdad, Richard Roth and Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.

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