Syrian security forces backed by tanks killed at least 27 people on Sunday, as President Bashar al-Assad defended what he termed a crackdown on "outlaws" despite rising condemnation.
Security forces killed at least 25 civilians in the city of Deir Ezzor and at least 13 more died in Hula, a town in Homs province, in a separate assault with tanks.
"The operations are focused on Al-Jura district where the army and security forces opened fire, killing at least 20 and wounding dozens of others," Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights head Abdel Karim Rihawi said.
While the pope joined an international chorus of concern over the bloodshed, Assad on defended his security forces' deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests as the "duty of the state" to confront "outlaws".
"Syria is on the path to reforms," he said, quoted by state news agency SANA. "To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians," he said. His statement came a day after a personal appeal by UN chief Ban Ki-moon for Assad to halt the bloodshed.
Ban in a telephone call "expressed his strong concern and that of the international community at the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past days," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Arab League expresses "growing concern"
The Arab League expressed "growing concern" about Syria and called on the authorities to stop acts of violence against protesters immediately, Qatar's state news agency QNA quoted the league's head as saying.
Activists reported heavy loss of life among Syrian civilians as Assad's forces staged their latest assaults on Sunday.
Arab League secretary-general Nabil Elaraby statement was one of the strongest made by an Arab leader since the start of the Syrian uprising, as most governments had stayed silent apparently fearing the power of the protests would move to other Arab states.