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Dozens die in days of Syria turmoil

In two days of bloody turmoil in Syria, more than 50 people have been killed as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad shelled residential buildings, fired on crowds and left bleeding corpses in the streets in a dramatic escalation of violence, activists say.

Much of the violence was focused in Homs, where heavy gunfire hammered the city in a second day of chaos. A day earlier, the city saw a flare-up of sectarian kidnappings and killings between its Sunni and Alawite communities, and pro-regime forces blasted residential buildings with mortars and gunfire, according to activists, who said an entire family was killed.

Video posted online by activists showed the bodies of five small children, five women of varying ages and a man, all bloodied and piled on beds in what appeared to be an apartment after a building was hit in the Karm el-Zaytoun neighbourhood of the city. A narrator said an entire family had been "slaughtered".

Activists said at least 30 people were killed in Homs on Thursday and another 21 people were killed across the country on Friday.

In an attempt to stop the bloodshed in Syria, the UN Security Council was to hold a closed-door meeting to discuss the crisis, a step toward a possible resolution against the Damascus regime, diplomats said.

At least 384 children have died, as of January 7, in the crackdown on Syria's uprising since it began nearly 11 months ago, the UN children's agency Unicef said, according to a count based on reports from human rights groups.

Most of the children killed were boys and most of the deaths took place in Homs, Unicef said. The United Nations estimates that more than 5,400 people have died in the turmoil.

The head of Arab League observers in Syria said in a statement that violence in the country has increased over the past few days. Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi said the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib have all witnessed a "very high escalation" in violence since Tuesday.

Early in the day, Assad's forces launched a "fierce military campaign" in the Hamadiyeh district of Hama, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other activists. They said the sound of machine-gun fire and explosions reverberated across the area. Some activists reported seeing uncollected bodies in the streets.

"There has been a terrifying massacre," Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said calling for an independent investigation.

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