Washington's claim that Russia is delivering attack helicopters to Syria has been denied by its ambassador to Moscow. Amnesty International in a report has accused the Syrian government of "crimes against humanity."
Syrian Ambassador Riad Haddad, quoted by the news agency Reuters in Moscow, said that "Russia is not delivering any helicopters to Syria."
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said that Washington was concerned about "latest information" that attack helicopters were "on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."
She urged Russia to cut what she called "these military ties" completely. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a visit to Iran had said Russia was supplying "anti-air defense systems" to Damascus in a deal that "in no way violates international laws."
Reuters quoted a Russian weapons export source as saying that there were no such recent exports and that Clinton may have been referring to five military helicopters that had been repaired in Russia.
Meanwhile, China, which like Russia is a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, has signaled misgivings about a call by France for the UN to enforce the peace plan of international envoy Kofi Annan.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said "China disapproves of the approach of leaning towards sanctions and pressure."
On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said a no-fly zone was under consideration over Syria for what he described as a civil war.
Grave abuses," says Amnesty
Amnesty International, in its 70-page report on Syria's conflict, said it had fresh evidence that some victims, including children, had been dragged from homes and shot dead by soldiers. In some cases remains had been set on fire.
"This disturbing new evidence of an organized pattern of grave abuses highlights the pressing need for decisive international action," Amnesty said, adding that the actions of government forces and militias amounted to "crimes against humanity and war crimes."
Amnesty said it had interviewed people in 23 towns and villages across Syria.
Violence in Homs, Damascus
In a continuation of violence on Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four civilians had been killed before dawn as troops continued to shell rebel-controlled areas in Syria's central province of Homs.
Three of them were killed in a suburb of Homs city. The fourth died in the rebel-held town of Rastan. It named him as Ahmed Bahbouh, a leading dissident figure and head of the rebel military bureau in Rastan.
A car bomb had targeted a military checkpoint in Idlib city, killing or wounding a number of soldiers, the Observatory said. And, in Damascus, a car bomb had exploded near a Shiite shrine. Syria's state-run news agency said 10 people were wounded.
The news agency AFP, quoting UN spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh, said a United Nation's observer convoy had entered the mountain enclave of Haffa near the Mediterranean coast after eight days of intense gunfire. Syrian forces seized back the territory from rebels on Wednesday.
Ghosheh said the observers had been trying to enter Haffa since last week.
Summarizing its toll for Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 77 people had been killed across the country, including 49 civilians, 21 soldiers and seven rebels.
Severe restrictions imposed on journalists working in Syria make it impossible to independently confirm such reports.
ipj/pfd (AFP, Reuter, dpa)