At least 144 people were killed in Syria on Monday, including 64 who died in a horrifying massacre, opposition forces claimed Tuesday, according to reports.
On one of the bloodiest days of the yearlong conflict, survivors of the violence at a checkpoint in Homs told of women being kidnapped, and 64 bodies were later found in farmland near Abel with bullet holes and stab wounds.
CNN cited the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying that another 76 people were killed in the city of Homs.
The news came as Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem spoke of defending his country's independence.
We are not happy to see brothers killing each other. But this is our country. We will defend our sovereignty and independence, CNN quoted him as saying.
He added that, despite sanctions imposed by the West, no one was dying of hunger or sickness, and that the Syrian government was providing all necessary services.
Do you think there is a government in this world ... (that cares) about Syrian people's welfare more than the Syrian government? I don't see this logic, he added.
Elsewhere, Reuters reported that Russia -- a vocal opponent of United Nations resolutions condemning the violence -- may soften its approach and join international efforts after a dubious referendum Monday allowed President Bashar al-Assad another 12 years in power.
Citing Lebanese politician Fouad Siniora, Reuters said Russia might open up to the idea of further U.N. resolutions calling on Assad to step down.
The position (where) I believe there might be a chance for some sort of change is the Russian position -- the Russian and the Chinese, Siniora told Reuters. The Syrian problem became a domestic issue in Russia. It is part [Russia's ongoing] election campaign. ... (Syrian) blood is being used as a way of trading between Russia and the West.
The European Union imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Syrian ministers Tuesday, in a bid to add pressure on Assad.
As government forces continued to shell opposition forces, the EU published a list of top officials said to be facilitating the violence. The list sets out a plan to freeze assets and impose travel bans on a number of senior figures including Health Minister Wael al-Halki, who is accused of denying medical care to injured protesters.