U.N. observers find corpses

13 bound bodies shot execution-style; Syria denies involvement

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BEIRUT — U.N. observers have discovered 13 bound corpses in eastern Syria, many of them apparently shot execution-style, the monitoring mission said Wednesday.

The announcement comes days after a massacre in Houla, in the central Homs province, that killed more than 100 people and prompted worldwide condemnation against the regime of President Bashar Assad. The Syrian government denied its troops were behind the killings and blamed “armed terrorists.”

The latest killings apparently happened in Deir el-Zour province. The corpses were found with their hands tied behind their backs, according to a statement by the U.N. mission. Some appeared to have been shot in the head from a short distance.

The head of the U.N. observer team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, said he was “deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act.”

The violence in Syria is spiraling out of control as an uprising against Mr. Assad that began in March 2011 has morphed into an armed insurgency.

In the wake of the Houla massacre, the United States and several other countries expelled Syrian diplomats to protest the killings. Survivors blamed pro-regime gunmen for at least some of the carnage in Houla.

The U.N.’s top human rights body planned to hold a special session Friday to address the massacre.

The U.S. Treasury Department also said it was levying sanctions on a key Syrian bank as Washington seeks to ratchet up economic pressure on the regime. The Treasury Department said the Syria International Islamic Bank has been acting as a front for other Syrian financial institutions seeking to circumvent sanctions. The new penalties will prohibit the SIIB from engaging in transactions in the United States and will freeze any assets under U.S. jurisdiction.

Violence also continued elsewhere unabated. Syrian forces bombarded rebel-held areas in the same province where the Houla killings occurred, although no casualties were immediately reported, activists said.

Damascus had said it would conclude its own investigation into the Houla deaths by Wednesday, but it was not clear if the findings would be made public.

Syria’s state-run media on Wednesday denounced the diplomatic expulsions as “unprecedented hysteria.”

Australia, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States ordered top Syrian diplomats to leave on Tuesday.

Turkey, Syria’s neighbor and a former close ally, joined the coordinated protest on Wednesday. Turkey has been among the most outspoken critics of the Assad regime. It closed its embassy in Damascus in March and withdrew the ambassador. Its consulate in Aleppo, Syria, remains open.

The Foreign Ministry said it ordered the Syrian charge d’affaires and other diplomats at the Syrian Embassy in Ankara to leave the country within 72 hours. The consulate in Istanbul will remain open for consular duties only. Turkey also reduced the number of its personnel in the consulate in Aleppo on Wednesday.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said new unspecified sanctions might be imposed against Syria in the coming days. The world “cannot remain silent in the face of such a situation,” he said.

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