International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Syria Sunday in a new bid to resolve the brutal 21-month conflict, as an air strike on a bakery in central Syria was reported to have killed dozens.
Officials said the UN-Arab League envoy, seen at the Sheraton Hotel in central Damascus, travelled overland from neighbouring Lebanon on a previously unannounced visit.
He last visited on October 19, but since then there has been fighting between government forces and rebels on the road to Damascus airport.
During his October visit he met President Bashar al-Assad and other officials to clinch a temporary ceasefire for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. Despite pledges, the truce did not hold.
At least 44,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt in March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi, who earlier told reporters he had been unaware of any visit by Brahimi, reiterated calls for national dialogue.
"Only Syrians will participate in national dialogue," he said. "We tell those who do not want dialogue to engage in talks, because time is running out."
Hours after Zoabi's press conference, regime warplanes bombarded a bakery in rebel-held Halfaya, in the central province of Hama, killing dozens and wounding many more, the Observatory and activists said.
"In Halfaya, regime forces bombarded a bakery and committed a massacre that killed dozens of people, including women and children, and wounded many others," said the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists.
"A MiG (jet) has attacked! Look at Assad's weapons. Look, world, look at the Halfaya massacre," says an unidentified cameraman shooting an amateur video distributed by the Observatory.
The footage showed a bombed one-storey block, a crater in the road beside it, bloodied bodies on the road and others in the rubble. Men are seen carrying victims, among them at least one woman.
On Monday, rebels launched an all-out assault on army positions across Hama, where anti-regime sentiment is strong.
During the summer, rights groups accused government forces of committing war crimes by dropping bombs and using artillery on or near bakeries.
Other air strikes on Sunday included a raid in Aleppo province, the Britain-based Observatory said.
"At least 13 people were killed in an air raid on the town of Sfeira," said the group, which relies on a network of doctors, activists and lawyers for its information.
Warplanes also hit the town of Saqba in Damascus province, just north of the road linking the capital to the international airport, the Observatory added.
Meanwhile, the world's largest Muslim body condemned threats made by Islamist rebels against two Christian towns, warning of fresh confessional strife.
Such threats "are contrary to the precepts of Islam which calls for tolerance, brotherhood and peace," said the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation based in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
The warnings came a day after NATO said it would be deploying Patriot missiles in neighbouring Turkey over the coming weeks.
"It will not support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation," NATO said in a statement after the military alliance agreed earlier this month to station the missiles on Turkish soil.