Find signs of possible government complicity

The United Nations monitors in Syria have recorded evidence of an atrocity in a Syrian hamlet near the embattled city of Hama amid a heated international debate over ways to defuse the escalating crisis in Syria, which faces the threat of sliding into a full-scale civil war.

Syrian opposition claim that 78 people, including a majority of women and children were killed in cold blood by a pro-government militia after troops had shelled the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir. The Syrian government has denied the charges and attributed the criminality to “terrorists”.

Al Qubeir, a small settlement of the Sunni Bedouin community is surrounded by members of the Allawite sect, who have been mostly loyal to the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

After the visit to al-Qubeir, the U.N. team confirmed that there were ghastly killings, but was unable to determine the scale of the carnage. “We can say that there was definitely a horrific crime that was committed. The scale is still not clear to me,” the BBC quoted Sausan Ghosheh, a U.N. spokesperson as saying. Ms. Ghosheh pointed out that the village, bearing scars of heavy violence, was empty on Friday, and the monitors had to depend on accounts of people in neighbouring hamlets. “The information was a little bit conflicting. We need to go back, cross-reference what we have heard, and check the names they say were killed, check the names they say are missing.”

While the U.N. is yet to get a fix on the specifics, the monitors noted compelling signs of horrific violence. "You could smell dead bodies and you could also see body parts in and around the village," said Ms. Ghosheh on Friday, on her return from Damascus. She added that that rocket fire had damaged one house while another had been gutted, with bodies still inside. The al-Qubeir incident follows the May 25 massacre in the Houla area, which the U.N. has now independently confirmed.

The U.N.’s observations also pointed to signs, which included the discovery of tracks of an armoured personnel carrier, owned by the army, of the Syrian government’s possible complicity in the atrocity. “Armoured vehicle tracks were visible in the vicinity. Some homes were damaged by rockets from armoured vehicles, grenades and a range of caliber weapons,” said Martin Nesirky, a U.N. spokesman.

Besides, Syrian troops backed by some civilians, whose affiliations are not known, had delayed the arrival of the monitors to al-Qubeir, giving rise to speculation that perpetrators of the crime could have, during this time, erased valuable evidence from the site. Before the U.N. team finally managed to arrive at the village, Major General Robert Mood, the head of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) had accused the Syrian army, manning check points, of stopping and in some cases turning back the monitors when they were on their way to al-Qubeir. He added that residents of the area had passed on information that “the safety of our observers is at risk if we enter the village”.

The deepening humanitarian crisis has triggered a global outcry for stronger international intervention in Syria. But analysts point out that, at the moment, an option beyond the six point peace plan authored by Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria, does not appear realistic. Speaking to reporters on Friday in Washington, Mr. Annan faced the dilemma head on. “Some say the plan may be dead,” he said. “Is the problem the plan or the problem is implementation? If it’s implementation, how do we get action on that? And if it’s the plan, what other options do we have?”

In an article posted on the Al Jazeera website, Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights observed: “It is easy to deride Kofi Annan and the frustrations arising from the repeated failures of Damascus to comply with the agreed framework, but it remains impossible to find preferable alternatives.”

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