Opposition: 138 Dead In Syrian Violence

At least 138 people were killed Monday across Syria, including 64 who died in a "horrifying massacre" at a checkpoint in Homs province, opposition activists said.

A damaged armoured vehicle belonging to the Syrian army is seen in the Syrian district of al-Khalidya in Homs February 20, 2012. Syrian government forces killed at least 16 people and wounded some 340 on Tuesday when they unleashed a heavy artillery barrage on a rebel-held district of the city of Homs, activists said. Picture taken February 20, 2012.

At least 138 people were killed Monday across Syria, including 64 who died in a "horrifying massacre" at a checkpoint in Homs province, opposition activists said.

Those killed at a checkpoint in the Abel area were attempting to flee shelling in the Baba Amr neighborhood in the city of Homs, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.

"Reports said security members and thugs kidnapped the women among them," the network said in a written statement. Residents found 47 corpses in one area and 17 in a second area, it said. The bodies were delivered to the national hospital in Homs by the Red Crescent Society, the Local Coordination Committees said.

A total of 68 corpses were found in the area, in farmland in western Homs province, said the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, apparently referencing the same incident. The bodies were found after an injured survivor reported the attack, the group said. All the bodies had been either shot or stabbed.

In all, 98 people were killed Monday in Homs, an opposition stronghold, according to the Local Coordination Committees. They included four defected soldiers, three woman and three children.

The deaths came on a day when Syrian officials announced that the nation's new draft constitution received approval and the European Union imposed new sanctions on the country amid ongoing clashes.

Earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said explosions rocked Homs and shelling was occurring in Baba Amr. Twenty people were wounded when a large shell struck an anti-government gathering in Homs, the group said.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar announced that 89.4% of voters approved the draft constitution, and 57.4% of eligible voters cast ballots. President Bashar al-Assad's regime has touted the constitutional referendum as a move toward reform.

Syria announced the referendum amid intense international cries to stop the bloodshed and open its regime to change. But analysts and protesters widely describe the effort as a farce, a superficial attempt to pacify al-Assad's critics.

"We dismiss it as absolutely cynical. ... Essentially, what he's done here is put a piece of paper that he controls to a vote that he controls so that he can try and maintain control," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of the referendum and al-Assad.

She cited the ongoing violence in cities like Homs and Hama and asked: "How could you possibly have any kind of a democratic process in conditions like that?"

Aid efforts were under way in the midst of the violence.

The Syrian Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross entered the province of Hama on Monday to provide aid to civilians, said Simon Schorno, spokesman for the Red Cross. A one-month supply of food, along with blankets and hygiene kits, was distributed to 12,000 people, he said. The operation was conducted with the permission of the Syrian government and rebel groups, Schorno said.

Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, the Red Cross' head of operations for the Middle East, said late Monday that a handful of aid workers were able to go into Baba Amr.

"I can only tell you that there were four ambulances that entered Baba Amr, belonging to the Syrian Red Crescent. They were loaded with medical goods. ... They could evacuate an elderly woman, a pregnant woman with her husband," she said.

Marie Colvin, an American journalist who worked for London's Sunday Times, was killed in a shelling attack last week, along with French journalist Remi Ochlik in Baba Amr. Colvin's mother, Rosemarie, said Sunday that aid workers have been trying for day to remove her daughter's body.

CNN and other media outlets cannot independently verify opposition or government reports because Syria has severely limited access to the country by foreign journalists. But the vast majority of reports from the ground indicate that government forces are massacring citizens in an attempt to wipe out civilians seeking al-Assad's ouster.

No attempts at getting al-Assad to stop his regime's crackdown on dissidents have stopped the onslaught.

The Council of the European Union agreed Monday on new sanctions regarding Syria after foreign ministers met in Brussels, Belgium, said spokeswoman Susanne Kiefer.

Seven ministers of the al-Assad regime will have their EU assets frozen and will be denied entry into the EU, Kiefer said. In addition, assets of the Syrian Central Bank in the EU will be frozen. Legitimate trade will be allowed to continue, she said, but must be authorized first.

In addition, cargo flights operated by Syrian carriers will have no access to EU airports, although mixed flights with passengers can still land there, Kiefer said. And trade involving precious metals and diamonds with the Syrian government and public bodies, including the Syrian Central Banks, is prohibited.

"Today's decisions will put further pressure on those who are responsible for the ruthless campaign of repression in Syria," Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said in a statement. "The measures target the regime and its ability to conduct the appalling violence against civilians. As long as the repression continues, the EU will keep imposing sanctions."

Elsewhere in Syria on Monday, two people were killed and eight wounded by government shelling on the village of Sarmeen in Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The shelling began Sunday night, and Syrian troops have entered Sarmeen, said Abu Mustafa al-Sayed, a Syrian opposition and community leader in the town of Binnish, also in Idlib province. The Syrian army has Sarmeen surrounded from all sides, and communications with the residents have been cut off, he said, though he didn't have a casualty estimate.

Shelling was also occurring in Binnish, mostly on its southeast outskirts, al-Sayed said.

Fighters in Binnish were on high alert, al-Sayed said, and ready to face a military raid. Al-Sayed said he fears that such a raid might happen Tuesday.

And in Damascus, security forces fired on mourners at a funeral, according to the Local Coordination Committees. Clashes were also occurring in Deir Ezzor, the group said, and 14 students were arrested during a protest at Aleppo University.

In Hama province, regime forces shot four young men to death, the opposition network said.

The group estimates that 9,000 people have been killed since the government launched its crackdown in March.

The Syrian government says that more than 2,000 members of its security forces have been killed by "terrorists" during that period, including seven "martyrs" who were buried Sunday, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

An "armed terrorist group" shelled a military educational complex in Homs with mortars on Monday, SANA said, killing two and injuring 12.

Asked Monday whether Syria would be referred to the International Criminal Court, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, "I hope the international community reflects on the conditions of referral. ... It's a difficult issue. Syria is not a participating state, so it's up to the Security Council to address this question. They must therefore continue to gather the elements that would permit an eventual referral."

Sectarian strife has been an underlying theme in the Syrian conflict. The al-Assad regime is dominated by the Alawite minority, to which al-Assad belongs; the majority of Syrians are Sunni, as are many of the protesters.

The opposition Syrian National Council urged Syria's Alawite community to join the revolt and promised their rights would be protected in a post-al-Assad Syria.

The opposition council acknowledged that the revolt has been tinged with sectarian conflicts, but it blamed that on al-Assad's "brutal violence, which has led to an increase in sectarianism."

"However, it is important to emphasize that the first step in halting sectarian strife in Syria is to overthrow the regime," it said.

The fractures in the opposition became more apparent Monday with the announcement of the Syrian Revolutionary Patriotic Group, an offshoot of the Syrian National Council.

"We do not have Muslim Brotherhood members amongst us, and we are still part of the Syrian National Council," said Walid al-Buni, a Cairo-based member of the new group. "Yet we object (to national council Chairman) Burhan Ghalioun's mild approach -- obvious in his speech in Tunis -- where he neglected to mention the importance of arming" the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Al-Buni said the Syrian Revolutionary Patriotic Group, which has about 40 members, will "concentrate fully on the support of the FSA and revolutionaries on the ground as the only party to carry weapons in their fight against Assad's regime and will work on supporting them in all matters, including weapons."