Foreign Secretary William Hague will hold talks with Syrian opposition groups as the government seeks to maintain international pressure on Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Downing Street said further sanctions were being considered and warned the Assad regime that the government would not "abandon" the Syrian people.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold an emergency meeting in Geneva at the UK's request to discuss the situation in a round of diplomatic action triggered by the "sickening" massacre in Houla, where regime forces have been blamed for killing more than 100 people.

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An amateur video claiming to show an injured child in Houla

An internal Syrian investigation has claimed rebels were to blame for last week's massacre in Houla, something decried as a "blatant lie" by America's ambassador to the UN .

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syria to stop its attacks, saying UN observers monitoring the ceasefire brokered by envoy Kofi Annan were not there to watch the killings of innocent people.

David Cameron convened a meeting of the National Security Council yesterday as Mr Hague warned of the need for urgent action to prevent a collapse into all-out civil war.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister wants to be sure that we are doing all we can to bring an end to the violence in Syria and to support the process of transition.

"The National Security Council considered the range of diplomatic efforts being pursued by the Government and agreed that we need to keep working with our international partners to make clear to the Assad regime that they must comply with the Annan plan, to stop killing and maiming their own citizens and that those responsible for the brutal violence will be held accountable for their actions.


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Anger: Demonstrators protest in front of the Syrian consulate in Istanbul


"They agreed that we should step up these efforts, including considering further sanctions. It is in the interest of everyone to put in place an orderly democratic transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.

"The National Security Council considered all the options on the table.

"Our goal is a peaceful political transition and our focus remains on the Annan plan, but the Assad regime should not make the mistake of believing that we will abandon the Syrian people."

Mr Hague, who is in neighbouring Turkey, said: "One of the great dangers here is that Syria could collapse into a sectarian civil war in which casualties could be far greater even than the horrific scenes and the terrible toll that we have seen already.

"So there is a real urgency to this. It is hard to tell from the outside when such a collapse would take place."

Hague said he would like to see president Assad appear at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the Houla massacre but there was little hope of the UN Security Council agreeing to refer the regime to the tribunal.

Russia and China, both permanent members of the council with the power of veto, have been reluctant to support the action demanded by the UK and others at the international institution.

Asked on Channel 4 News if the Syrian leader should be in the dock at the ICC, Mr Hague said: "Yes, that would be my personal view. Of course terrible crimes have been committed, there must be no impunity for those crimes."

"But this subject takes us back to the problem at the UN Security Council where we have united behind the Annan plan but not behind stronger action.

"To refer Syria, a country which is not a party to the International Criminal Court, to that court would require a resolution of the UN Security Council and there we, of course, are blocked."

Earlier this week Kofi Annan, the UN's envoy to Syria, warned that the country has reached a "tipping point" after the government was accused of massacring of 108 people, including 49 children.

Annan, speaking after talks with President Bashar al-Assad, called for the government to show "maximum restraint" one year since its troops began slaughtering peaceful protesters and citizens.


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Warning: some of these pictures are graphic

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  • UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Kofi Anna

    UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Kofi Annan (L) leaves his hotel with Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad (R) on his way to a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on May 29, 2012. The former UN chief arrived in Syria on May 28, and expressed 'horror' at the Houla massacre of more than 100 people as he began a visit aimed at salvaging his battered peace plan. AFP PHOTO/LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Seated under a portrait of Syria's embat

    Seated under a portrait of Syria's embattled president Bashar al-Assad, UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan gestures during a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Damascus on May 28, 2012. Annan expressed 'horror' at the Houla massacre of more than 100 people as he began his latest visit to the Syrian capital with the aim of salvaging his battered peace plan. AFP PHOTO/LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad

    Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi addresses journalists in Damascus on May 27, 2012, stressing that the Syrian government was 'not at all' responsible for the massacre of at least 92 people in the central town of Houla which has sparked an international outcry. 'We completely deny responsibility for this terrorist massacre against our people,' Makdissi told a news conference. AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • This frame grab made from an amateur video provided by Syrian activists on Monday, May 28, 2012, purports to show the massacre in Houla on May 25 that killed more than 100 people, many of them children. The amateur footage shows people running along a street, purportedly just after the attack on Houla started. (AP Photo/Amateur Video via AP video) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS CITIZEN JOURNALISM IMAGE

  • This frame grab made from an amateur video provided by Syrian activists on Monday, May 28, 2012, purports to show the massacre in Houla on May 25 that killed more than 100 people, many of them children. The amateur footage shows people running along a street, purportedly just after the attack on Houla started. (AP Photo/Amateur Video via AP video) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS CITIZEN JOURNALISM IMAGE

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012 purports to show shrouded dead bodies following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. The Syrian government denied Sunday its troops were behind an attack on a string of villages that left more than 90 people dead, blaming the killings on "hundreds of heavily-armed gunmen" who also attacked soldiers in the area. Friday's assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city of Homs, was one of the bloodiest single events in Syria's 15-month-old uprising. The U.N. says 32 children under 10 were among the dead. (AP Photo) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS CITIZEN JOURNALISM IMAGE

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012, purports to show a dead child following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. The Syrian government denied Sunday its troops were behind an attack on a string of villages that left more than 90 people dead, blaming the killings on "hundreds of heavily-armed gunmen" who also attacked soldiers in the area. Friday's assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city of Homs, was one of the bloodiest single events in Syria's 15-month-old uprising. The U.N. says 32 children under 10 were among the dead. (AP Photo) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS CITIZEN JOURNALISM IMAGE

  • This image made from amateur video released by Shaam News Network and accessed Saturday, May 26, 2012 purports to show covered bodies after a government assault on Houla, Syria. Government troops shelled a string of villages in central Syria before pro-regime thugs swept through the area, shooting people in the streets and in their homes in attacks that killed more than 90 people, activists said Saturday. The assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city of Homs, is one of the bloodiest single events in Syria's 15-month-old uprising. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video) TV OUT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL

  • This image made from amateur video released by Shaam News Network and accessed Saturday, May 26, 2012 purports to show an injured Syrian in a hospital in Houla, Syria. Government troops shelled a string of villages in central Syria before pro-regime thugs swept through the area, shooting people in the streets and in their homes in attacks that killed more than 90 people, activists said Saturday. The assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city of Homs, is one of the bloodiest single events in Syria's 15-month-old uprising. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video) TV OUT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL

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