Dozens of Syrians were massacred in a village near the central city of Hama, the country’s fourth-largest, opposition activists said today.
They accuse the Syrian military of shelling the farming town of Mazraat al-Qubair before a pro-regime militia stormed it with guns and knives, killing residents at close range.
In addition, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly that U.N. monitors were fired at when they approached the area. No U.N. personnel were injured and it wasn’t clear who was firing at them.
The unverified account of the massacre, which the government has denied, would be similar to the massacre that took place in the town of Houla two weeks ago, which the government said left 108 people dead.
Wednesday’s alleged massacre came a day before the United Nations was set to meet on Syria and hear a briefing by special envoy Kofi Annan. The meetings will focus on finding a new direction for Annan’s U.N.-backed six-point peace plan, which called for a ceasefire but has been largely ignored by both the regime and those fighting it.
Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
“The regime-sponsored violence that we witnessed again in Hama yesterday is simply unconscionable,” she said. “Assad has doubled down on his brutality and duplicity, and Syria will not, cannot be peaceful, stable or certainly democratic until Assad goes.”
As for the alleged massacre, a U.N. spokeswoman in Damascus said U.N. monitors had given up trying to enter Mazraat al-Qubair for the day after several patrols were unable to enter from different points because of army checkpoints, civilian interference and safety risks.
“We’re extremely concerned about this restriction imposed on our movements, and this will really impede our ability to monitor, to observe and to report,” said U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria spokesperson Sausan Ghosheh.
The United Nations has 300 monitors in Syria.
Videos of al-Qubair posted online by activists show a row of dead bodies in a room. Several are young children; some are visibly charred while others are covered in blankets. But no video evidence has yet emerged to match the scale of the alleged massacre, which the Local Coordination Committees of Syria says killed more than 80 people.
Another activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, says it has the names of 23 people killed. Eyewitnesses say that after the village was shelled, pro-government militia, known as “shabiha,” entered. They reportedly burned homes and shot and stabbed villagers.