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Group: Militia 'slaughtered' 3 families in Syria's Homs

Russia's foreign minister held talks with President Bashar Assad in Damascus as Syrian forces bombarded the city of Homs. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports

Updated at 9:50 a.m. ET: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday the world faced a growing "cult of violence" and Moscow must not let events like those in Libya and Syria be repeated in Russia.  His comments followed claims of a slaughter and deadly overnight shelling in the city of Homs.

"We of course condemn all violence regardless of its source, but one cannot act like an elephant in a china shop," Putin told Russian religious leaders at a meeting as talk turned to Libya and Syria.

"Help them, advise them, limit, for instance, their ability to use weapons but not interfere under any circumstances," said Putin, whose country vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution last week backing an Arab League call for Syria's president to cede power.

"A cult of violence has been coming to the fore in international affairs in the past decade," he said. "This cannot fail to cause concern ... and we must not allow anything like this in our country."

Putin has often criticized the United States and its NATO allies over its use of military force abroad, from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to a NATO air campaign that helped Libyan rebels drive Moammar Gaddafi from power last year.

Meanwhile, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was "appalled" by the Syrian government's military onslaught of the city of Homs.

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The former South African high court judge said it was extremely urgent "for the international community to cut through the politics and take effective action to protect the civilian population."

Updated at 4:10 a.m. ET: Militiamen loyal to President Bashar Assad stormed the homes of three unarmed families on the edges of opposition districts in the city of Homs, killing women and children,  the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.

"The shabbiha (Assad's militiamen) broke into three houses overnight and slaughtered a family of five -- the father, wife and their three children, a family of seven in another house and a eight in a third," dissident in exile Rami Abdelrahman, who heads the British-based Observatory, told the news service.

The report followed claims that overnight bombardments killed at least 47 civilians in Homs.

There was no immediate comment from Syrian authorities and the report could not be verified because the authorities have placed tight restrictions on access to the country.

Abdelrahman said the attacks occurred near al-Fardaos roundabout and near al-Naziheen and Karm al-Zeitoun districts, where loyalist forces have been advancing after heavy bombardment of the city of one million, 88 miles north of the capital, Damascus.

He gave the names of the families as Ghantawi, Tirkawi and al-Zamel.

"The shabbiha (which means ghosts in Arabic) are acting as if they are at the peak of their power and that they can do anything to prevent the Assad regime from falling," Abdelrahman said.

Meanwhile, Russia stuck to its opposition to Western and Arab pressure for Assad to cede power.

The outcome of any talks on ending the bloodshed in Syria must not be predetermined, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow. The comments suggested that Russia, which vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution supporting an Arab League call for Assad to quit, has not changed its stance on Syria following a meeting with Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.

Original story: AMMAN -- Bombardment of the Syrian city of Homs by government forces killed at least 47 civilians over the past eight hours, activists in the city and opposition sources said on Wednesday.

"The regime didn't expect us to continue our struggle against them," activist Karam Abu Rabea told The Guardian newspaper via Skype.  "They didn't think we would persist. So now it is using its last card. It is the genocide card."

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"Electricity returned briefly and we were able to contact various neighborhoods because activists there managed to recharge their phones. We counted 47 killed since midnight," activist Mohammad Hassan said by satellite phone.

The attacks on Homs continued despite Russia winning a promise from Assad to bring an end to bloodshed, while Western and Arab states acted to further isolate Assad following the onslaught on the city, one of the bloodiest of the 11-month uprising.

Armored forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have thrust deeper into the central city of Homs, firing rockets and mortar rounds to subdue opposition districts, activists said, a day after Russia said Assad wants peace.

Tanks entered the Inshaat neighborhood and moved closer to Bab Amro district, which has been the target of the heaviest barrages by loyalist troops that have killed at least 100 civilians in the last two days, activists said.

"Tanks are now at Qubab mosque and soldiers have entered Hikmeh hospital in Inshaat. They also moved closer to Bab Amro and shelling is being heard on Karm al-Zeitoun and al-Bayada," activist Mohammad al-Hassan said by satellite phone from Homs.

"Communications have been cut in many parts of Homs and it is difficult to put together an overall picture. But tanks are in main thoroughfares in the city and appear poised to push deep into residential areas," he added.

The official state news agency said "armed terrorist groups" attacked police roadblocks in Homs and fired mortar bombs at the city, with three falling on the Homs oil refinery, one of two in the country. It gave no details of any damage.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, representing a rare ally on a trip to the Syrian capital, said on Tuesday that both countries wanted to revive a monitoring effort by the Arab League, whose plan to resolve Syria's crisis was vetoed by Moscow and Beijing in the U.N. Security Council.

Lavrov - whose government wields unique leverage as a major arms supplier with longstanding political ties to Damascus, and maintains a naval facility on its coast - told Assad that peace was in Russia's interests.

Msnbc.com staff and Reuters contributed to this report.

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