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Syrian 'rebels' pose for the camera
Syrian rebels have given president Bashar al-Assad a 48-hour deadline to comply with an international peace plan otherwise they would renew their battle to overthrow him.

The ultimatum was issued after UN observers reported the discovery of 13 bodies bound and shot in eastern Syria, adding to the world outcry over the massacre last week of 108 men, women and children.

The latest developments emphasised how the peace plan drafted by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has failed to stem 14 months of bloodshed or bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table.

Col Qassim Saadeddine of the rebel Free Syrian Army said its leadership set a deadline of 9am tomorrow for Mr Assad to implement the peace plan, which includes a ceasefire, deployment of observers, and free access for humanitarina aid and journalists.

If it fails to do so "we are free from any commitment and we will defend and protect the civilians, their villages and their cities," Mr Saadeddine said in a statement posted on social media.

Both sides in the conflict have violated a tenuous ceasefire over the past two months but Mr Assad's forces have been by far the worst offender, according to UN monitors.

Outrage at last Friday's massacre in the town of Houla, led a host of Western countries to expel senior Syrian diplomats on Tuesday and to press Russia and China to allow tougher action by the UN Security Council.

Major-general Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the observer mission, said the 13 corpses found yesterday in Assukar, about 50 km (east of Deir al-Zor, had their hands tied behind their backs. Some had been shot in the head from close range.

Mr Mood called the latest killings an "appalling and inexcusable act" and appealed to all factions to end the cycle of violence.

He did not apportion any blame but Syrian activists said the victims were army defectors killed by Mr Assad's forces.

Video footage posted by activists showed the bodies face down on the ground, hands tied behind their backs, with dark pools of blood around their heads and torsos.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said in New York on Tuesday that the Syrian army and "shabbiha" militiamen supporting Assad were probably responsible for killing the 108 people in Houla with artillery and tank fire, guns and knives.

The government denied any responsibility and blamed Islamist "terrorists" - its term for rebel forces.

The uprising began last March with street protests against Mr Assad, who succeeeded his late, authoritarian father Hafez al-Assad 11 years ago to perpetuate the family dynasty.

While initially a pro-democracry movement, the struggle has grown into an armed struggle increasingly involving sectarian rivalries pitting the Sunni Muslim majority against the Alawite sect, to which the Assad clan belongs.

Mr Assad's forces have killed 7,500 people since it began, according to a UN toll. The government, which says the unrest is the work of foreign-backed terrorists, says more than 2,600 soldiers or security agents have been killed.

Mr nnan, trying to save his peace plan from collapse, told Mr Assad in Damascus on Tuesday that Syria was at a tipping point.The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 100 people were killed in Houla the same day.

Diplomats said the UN Human Rights Council would meet in Geneva on Friday to consider the Houla massacre, the fourth time Syria has faced such scrutiny since the anti-Assad revolt broke out in March 2011.

Mr Assad has so far proved impervious to international scolding and Western sanctions for his crackdown and has failed to return troops and tanks to barracks, as required by the Annan plan.

However, the UN observers sent in to monitor a notional ceasefire were able to verify the horrors in Houla, which produced a wave of world revulsion.

Mr Assad's heavyweight international allies, China and Russia, stuck to their rejection of any intervention or UN-backed penalties to force him to change course.

The West is itself averse to military intervention, although French president Francois Hollande said on Tuesday this could change if the UN Security Council backed it. But that is not possible unless veto-wielding members Russia and China allow it.

Turkey joined other countries including the United States, Britain, France and Germany in expelling Syrian diplomats in protest at the Houla massacre, saying unspecified international measures would follow if crimes against humanity continued.

Stung by the expulsions, Syria told the Dutch chargee d'affaires to leave. She was one of the few senior Western diplomats left in Damascus.

Despite the diplomatic deadlock, Mr Annan, a former UN secretary-general and Nobel peace laureate, is pressing on with his mission.

"It is important to find a solution that will lead to a democratic transition in Syria and find a way of ending the killings as soon as possible," he said after talks in Jordan yesterday.

Source: Reuters