SYRIA- UN officials, unable to confirm toll, make it clear they believe government forces, allies are behind attack on the village of Mazraat al-Qubair in Hama. At least 55 people were killed on Wednesday in an assault on Al-Kubeir, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
UN observers were finally allowed access to the location of the massacre of Mazraat al-Qubair village on Friday, two days after reporting the massacre.
Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the UN observers, said residents’ accounts of the mass killing were “conflicting,” and that they needed to cross check the names of the missing and dead with those supplied by nearby villagers.
Mazraat al-Qubair itself was “empty of the local inhabitants,” she said.
“You can smell the burnt smell of the dead bodies,” Ghosheh said. “You could also see body parts in and around the village.”
Ghosheh said she saw two homes damaged by shells and bullets, with one of them containing the burned bodies.
The UN observers had also visited a cemetery where some of the dead were buried, according to an activist in Mazraat al-Qubair.
Confronting a scene of congealed blood, scattered body parts and shelled buildings, U.N. monitors in Syria collected evidence Friday of a mass atrocity in a desolate hamlet, more than 24 hours after Syrian forces and government supporters blocked their first attempt to visit the site.
The monitoring team’s journey to Mazraat al-Qubair, filmed and posted online, presented the outside world with the first visual proof from a neutral official source that a horrific crime had occurred there. No corpses were found, and the team’s officials said many of the facts behind the killings, which occurred Wednesday, had yet to be determined.
In New York, UN officials said Friday that more than 20 unarmed UN observers were allowed into Mazraat al-Qubair, a day after they were shot at and prevented from entering the village.
"Inside some of the houses, blood was visible across the walls and floors. Fire was still burning outside houses and there was a strong stench of burnt flesh," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in New York, delivering a grisly account of the visit.
UN officials, unable to confirm that toll, have made it clear they believe government forces and allies were behind the attack on the mainly Sunni Muslim village surrounded by an Allawite population loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
"Armoured vehicle tracks were visible in the vicinity. Some homes were damaged by rockets from armoured vehicles, grenades and a range of calibre weapons," Nesirky said.
A BBC correspondent travelling with the UN observers described the hamlet as an “appalling scene” of burned-out houses and gore.
“There are pieces of human flesh lying around the room, there is a big pile of congealed blood in the corner, there’s a tablecloth that still has the pieces of someone’s brain attached to the side of it,” said the correspondent, Paul Danahar.
"In front of me there is a piece of brain, in the corner there is a mass on congealed blood," he wrote on Twitter.
Nesirky quoted activists as saying government forces had removed victims' bodies on Thursday while the UN observers were being hindered from reaching the village.
According to preliminary evidence, troops had surrounded Mazraat al-Qubair and militia entered the village and killed civilians with "barbarity", UN chief Ban Ki-moon told the UN Security Council.
Activists claimed that up to 78 people, including women and children, were shot, hacked and burned to death, saying pro-government militiamen known as “shabiha” were responsible.
Damascus denied responsibility and, as it has done repeatedly in the past, blamed foreign-backed "terrorists", using its term for rebels’ fighters. The Syria`s regime statement on the state-run news agency SANA said “an armed terrorist group” killed nine women and children before Hama authorities were called and killed the attackers.
Some experts on Syria have described Mazraat al-Qubair killings as part of a new stage in the Syrian conflict that has crossed dangerously into sectarianism, fomented by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, a situation for which efforts like Annan’s peace plan are too late.
“We’ve reached the point of no return,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and a former U.N. official. “Diplomacy has not kept up with the reality on the ground.”