BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bashar Assad's forces killed at least 50 civilians, including 13 children, in central Syria on Friday, activists said, in one of the highest death tolls in one specific area since an internationally brokered cease-fire went into effect last month.
Syrian troops using tanks, mortar shells and heavy machine guns pounded the area of Houla, a region made up of several towns and villages in the province of Homs, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees activist groups said.
Both groups said at least 50 people were killed. The Observatory said the dead included 13 children. It added that about 100 people were wounded.
Homs has been among the hardest-hit provinces in a government crackdown since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began last year.
Attacks like Friday's, as well as strikes by rebel forces on government troops, have persisted despite the deployment of more than 250 U.N. observers who have fanned out across Syria to monitor a cease-fire brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.
In other violence on Friday, Syrian forces fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of protesters in the northern city of Aleppo who were calling for Assad's ouster, killing five people, activists said.
Also Friday, a group of Lebanese Shiites who were kidnapped in Syria were released in good health, three days after gunmen abducted the men as they returned from a religious pilgrimage.