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78 Syrian Civilians Massacred in Qubair, Including 40 Women and Children

June 7, 2012


U.N. monitors try to reach "massacre" village

By Mariam Karouny and Erika Solomon

BEIRUT | Thursday, June 7, 2012, 8:37am EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) -

U.N. monitors tried on Thursday to check reports of a massacre of at least 78 villagers by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad - killings that prompted another U.S. demand for the Syrian leader to cede power and leave the country.

Opposition activists said up to 40 women and children were among the dead in Mazraat al-Qubair, near Hamah, on Wednesday, posting film on the Internet of bloodied or charred bodies.

Confirmation will pile pressure on world powers to act, but they have been paralyzed by rifts pitting Western and most Arab states against Assad's defenders in Russia, China and Iran.

Syria's pro-government Addounia TV said U.N. observers had arrived in Mazraat al-Qubair. The chief of the U.N. mission said earlier that Syrian troops and civilians had barred them.

"They are being stopped at Syrian army checkpoints and in some cases turned back," General Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. observer mission, said in a statement. "Some of our patrols are being stopped by civilians in the area."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the latest reported massacre, which follows one in which 108 people were slain in the Syrian town of Houla on May 25, as unconscionable.

"We are disgusted by what we are seeing (in Syria)," she told a news conference during a visit to Istanbul.


Clinton said the United States was willing to work with all U.N. Security Council members, which include Russia, on a conference on Syria's political future. But it would have to start with the premise that Assad and his government give way to a democratic government, she said.

Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, was due to brief the U.N. Security Council in New York later on Thursday.

A senior Russian diplomat said Moscow would accept a Yemen-style power transition in Syria if were decided by the people, referring to a deal under which Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in February after a year of unrest.

"The Yemen scenario was discussed by the Yemenis themselves. If this scenario is discussed by Syrians themselves and is adopted by them, we are not against it," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

A Syrian official in Hama denied reports from Mazraat al-Qubair, telling the state news agency that residents had asked security forces for help after a "terrorist group committed ... a monstrous crime", killing nine women and children.

U.N. observers sent to Syria to verify what has proved to be a non-existent truce brokered by Annan investigated the Houla massacre, which the chief U.N. peacekeeper said was probably the work of Syrian troops and "shabbiha" militia.

Activists say pro-Assad gunmen also perpetrated the killings in Mazraat al-Qubair, moving in to shoot, club and stab their victims, backed by army tanks that shelled the village earlier.

Syrian authorities have also denied responsibility for the Houla killings, blaming foreign-backed Islamist militants.

Footage purportedly from Mazraat al-Qubair showed the bodies of at least a dozen women and children wrapped in blankets or white shrouds, as well as the remains of burned corpses.

"These are the children of the Mazraat al-Qubair massacre ... Look, you Arabs and Muslims, is this a terrorist?" asks the cameraman, focusing on a dead infant's face. "This woman was a shepherd, and this was a schoolgirl."


A Hama-based activist using the name Abu Ghazi listed more than 50 names of victims, many from the al-Yateem family, but said some burned bodies could not be identified. The bodies of between 25 and 30 men were taken away by the killers, he said.

Shabbiha, drawn mostly from Assad's minority Alawite sect that is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, have been blamed for the killings of civilians from the Sunni Muslim majority. That has raised fears of an Iraq-style sectarian bloodbath and worsened tensions between Shi'ite Iran and mainly Sunni-led Arab states.

Events in Syria's 15-month-old uprising are difficult to verify due to tight state curbs on international media access.

U.N. diplomats said they expected Annan to present the Security Council with a new proposal to rescue his failing peace plan - a "contact group" of world powers and regional ones like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Iran, which is an ally of Syria.

Rebel groups in Syria say they are no longer bound by Annan's truce plan and want foreign weapons and other support.

Western leaders, wary of new military engagements in the Muslim world, have offered sympathy but shown no appetite for taking on Assad's military, supplied by Russia and Iran.

Annan sees his proposed forum as a way to break a deadlock among the five permanent members of the Security Council, where Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions critical of Syria that were backed by the United States, Britain and France.

It would seek to map out a political transition under which Assad would leave office ahead of free elections, envoys said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday proposed an international meeting on Syria that would include the prime candidates for Annan's proposed contact group, including Iran.

Clinton, however, reacted coolly to that idea, accusing Iran of "stage-managing" Syria's repression of its opponents in which the United Nations says over 10,000 people have been killed.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it was important to involve Russia in peace efforts on Syria, saying the conflict there could ignite a regional conflagration.

"Assad's regime must know there is no protective hand over these atrocities," he said in Istanbul.

Leaders of a bloc grouping China, Russia and Central Asian states called on Thursday for dialogue to resolve the Syria conflict, rather than any firmer action by the Security Council.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation rejected military interference, "enforced handover of power" and unilateral sanctions, favoring a "broad nationwide dialogue, based on independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria."

France said it would host a conference of the "Friends of Syria" - countries hostile to Assad - on July 6.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Arshad Mohammed in Istanbul and Balazs Koranyi, Gleb Bryanski and Chris Buckley; Editing by Alistair Lyon)


UN observers banned from investigating fresh massacre in central Syria

DAMASCUS, June 7, 2012 (Xinhua) --

Spokesperson of the UN supervision mission to Syria said Thursday that a group of UN observers tasked with examining a fresh massacre in a central Syrian village had been blocked from entering the site.

Talking to reporters Thursday, Sausan Ghosheh said the team had been firstly blocked by a military checkpoint and then by the residents of the village, who told the observers that their lives would be jeopardized had they decided to enter the Mazraat Qubeir village.

However, the state TV said the observers managed to get in the village. The TV said early Thursday that armed groups committed a massacre and killed nine people in a village in the central Hama province on Wednesday.

Citing an unnamed source, the TV denied as "categorically baseless" media reports claiming that the government troops' shelling had killed more than 80 people in the village.

Government troops intervened and clashed with the gunmen at the request of local residents, it added.

Women and children were among the killed in Qubeir village, the TV said, adding that many of the gunmen were killed in the clashes along with two government soldiers.

The broadcaster said that the massacre was designed to tarnish and frame the Syrian administration a night before a scheduled meeting of the UN Security Council.

On the contrary, the activists' network Local Coordination Committees said 129 people were killed in several Syrian cities on Wednesday, adding that 86 of whom were killed in Hama by the heavy shelling of government troops.

The figures were impossible to be independently verified.

The massacre is the second in a week to rattle Syria. Last week, a massacre occurred in the central village of Houla in Homs province, claiming the lives of more than 100 people. The government and the opposition have been trading barbs over the carnage.


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