Syrian Activists Say Dozens Killed in Massacre

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 Mazraat al-Qubair before a pro-regime militia stormed it with guns and knives, killing residents at close range.

The unverified account, 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 roundly ignored by both the regime and those fighting it.

As for the alleged massacre, Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, said today a statement, "UNSMIS dispatched UN Observers to Mazraat al-Qubeir, early Thursday morning, to verify reports of large-scale killings in the village.  The observers have not yet been able to reach the village. "

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.