Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Syria Denies UN Observers Access to Alleged Massacre Site

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Syria Denies UN Observers Access to Alleged Massacre Site

Article excerpt

UN observers were denied access to the Syrian village of Mazraat al-Qubeir, where opposition activists and UN officials say dozens were murdered on Thursday.

Allegations of a fresh massacre near the Syrian city of Hama, on the heels of last month's massacre in Houla, are testing the resolve and the usefulness of the UN observer mission to Syria.

The UN observers, some of whom are based in Hama, tried to gain access to the hamlet of Mazraat al-Qubeir today after Syrian opposition sources claimed that as many as 100 people, many of them women and children, were killed there on Thursday. The halls of the UN in New York rang out with condemnation of the latest massacre today, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saying reports from Mazraat al-Qubeir were "shocking and sickening."

But the unarmed UN observer mission on the ground, touted by UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan as a key part of a six-point plan to end the war, were prevented from reaching the village to investigate by both the Syrian army and loyalist civilians in the area. "This clearly impedes our ability to observe, monitor and report," said Sausan Ghosheh, a spokesperson for the UN observers' mission.

According to the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group for the internal opposition in Syria, at least 78 people were killed in the village, roughly half the population.

Among them were 40 women and children; most of them came from the same family.

"These are poor people, farmers, who were completely outside of the conflict," LLC member Jaber Zayen said from Sweden. "The regime is clearly trying to pit civilians against civilians in an attempt to set off a sectarian war."

Surrounded

As in Houla, the opposition says the army first surrounded al- Qubeir, and then sent in the so-called shabiha, or ghosts, pro- government militias composed of civilians from the surrounding Alawite villages. The Alawite, an off-shoot of Shia Islam, are a minority in Syria, but they have much of the power. The uprising stems mainly from within the Sunni majority.

Opposition sources claim that some of the bodies were tied to the backs of cars and dragged through neighboring Alawite villages. …

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