A BBC reporter traveling with the unarmed observers in a convoy from the capital, Damascus, said the smell of charred flesh hung in the air in the deserted village of Qubair as the monitors toured gutted buildings that were allegedly attacked by government-backed militiamen two days earlier.
Surviving residents of the tiny village, a cluster of about 20 homes, said Syrian security forces visited them the night before and threatened them with death if they cooperated with the monitors. Nonetheless, one resident told The Washington Post in a telephone interview that he covered his face and led the monitors on a tour of the devastation inflicted Wednesday, when armed pro-government militiamen converged on Qubair and embarked on a killing spree.
“We took them to the graves where we buried the bodies; we showed them the burned houses and the bloodstains in the other houses,” the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety. He said he also showed the U.N. observers bloodied sticks that had been used to batter some of the victims and led them to see dead cows that he said were also slaughtered by the assailants.
Hundreds of people from nearby Sunni villages are now packing up their belongings and fleeing to other areas because they fear further attacks, he added.
The observers had turned back Thursday after being stopped at Syrian military checkpoints and coming under small-arms fire from unidentified gunmen, U.N. officials said. They renewed their effort to reach Qubair on Friday.
According to opposition activists and survivors, militiamen known as shabiha attacked the Sunni village in Hama province Wednesday, slaughtering at least 78 people in their homes. Survivors said the attackers were from three neighboring pro-government villages populated by members of President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
The government has blamed “terrorists” for the attack, in which it says nine people were killed.
Earlier Friday, Syrian forces resumed their shelling of a rebel stronghold in the city of Homs, a day after world leaders sought to apply new pressure on the Assad government.
Activists and human rights groups said the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh in the central Syrian city came under artillery fire Friday morning.
“Khaldiyeh is being subjected to five to 10 shells a minute in the worst shelling since the revolution began,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
Elsewhere in the country, at least 10 people — seven of them members of police or security forces — were killed in three bomb blasts Friday, state television and news agencies reported. Two police officers and three civilians died in a car bombing in the northwestern city of Idlib, and two blasts near Damascus killed five other security agents, according to the reports. Washington Post