Syrian security forces killed at least 32 people on Thursday as the bodies of 23 torture victims were found near the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria that security forces captured earlier this week, activists said.
"Twenty-three bodies with marks of extreme torture were found near Mazraat Wadi Khaled, west of the city of Idlib," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in a statement.
The Britain-based group said the 23 blindfolded and handcuffed victims had been shot dead.
It also reported that security forces on Thursday killed nine civilians, including four in a car, and four rebels across the province of Idlib.
But the Local Coordination Committees, the main activist group spurring protests on the ground, gave a higher death toll, saying at least 32 people were killed across the country, among them 29 in Idlib alone.
Elsewhere, one person was killed in the central province of Hama, one in the northern province of Aleppo and another in the southern province of Daraa, the LCC said.
In Aleppo and on the outskirts of Damascus, security forces broke up scattered anti-regime protests on Thursday, according to the LCC.
The city of Idlib fell to government forces on Tuesday night, two weeks after the regime stormed the Baba Amr district of Homs city in central Syria, following a month-long blitz that activists said left hundreds dead.
Syrian activists have compiled a list of 114 civilians killed since security forces launched their assault on Idlib on March 10, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
Following the Baba Amr offensive, residents of nearby neighborhoods reported finding the mutilated bodies of women and children. Activists posted video footage they said proved regime forces were to blame.
The government blamed "armed terrorist gangs."
Human Rights Watch stepped in to demand an end to the "scorched earth methods" being deployed by Assad, and insist that China and Russia stop blocking U.N. efforts to take tough action.
"City after city, town after town, Syria's security forces are using their scorched earth methods while the Security Council's hands remain tied by Russia and China," HRW's Sarah Leah Whitson.
"One year on, the Security Council should finally stand together and send a clear message to Assad that these attacks should end," said the New York-based group's Middle East director.
Moscow and Beijing have since October blocked two Security Council draft resolutions to condemn Damascus on the grounds they were unbalanced and aimed at regime change.
U.N.-Arab League mediator Annan has urged Assad to speed up efforts to end the bloodletting in Syria.
The former U.N. chief had received the president's response to "concrete proposals" he submitted to the Syrian leader in Damascus last weekend but had more "questions and is seeking answers."
Annan, who is to brief the Security Council on his mission by videoconference from Geneva on Friday, "is still in contact with the Syrian authorities -- the dialogue continues," said his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.
In neighboring Turkey, the foreign ministry said about 1,000 Syrian refugees, including a defecting general, had crossed into the country in the past 24 hours.
Ankara accused the Syrian leadership of planting landmines near its border with Turkey along routes used by refugees.
"The number of Syrian refugees currently staying in Turkey boomed by 1,000 in a single day and climbed to 14,700 total," foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said.
Turkey's Red Crescent chief, Ahmet Lutfi Akar, warned that up to 500,000 Syrians may cross into the country seeking refuge from the bloodshed.
"There is an extreme situation. There are various scenarios that this figure may climb up to 500,000," the Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.
Also in Turkey on Thursday, hundreds of Syrian activists in a "Freedom Convoy" left from the city of Gaziantep for the border with Syria to mark the one-year anniversary.
"Our goal is to put pressure in our way on the Syrian government to stop its massacres and its embargo on its own people," Moayad Skaif, one of the organizers, told Agence France Presse.
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