Thursday 19 April 2018

UN finds grim proof of massacre

A Syrian boy carries a toy rocket-launcher during an anti-Bashar al-Assad protest after prayers on the outskirts of Idlib yesterday
A Syrian boy carries a toy rocket-launcher during an anti-Bashar al-Assad protest after prayers on the outskirts of Idlib yesterday

Ruth Sherlock in Beirut and Magdy Samaan in Cairo

THE sight that met the first United Nations observers to visit the Syrian hamlet of Qubair yesterday was of homes gutted and burned. The smell in the air was that of rotting flesh.

On Wednesday, 78 people were massacred inside the hamlet. Yesterday, farmhouses stood charred and abandoned, with pools of congealed blood in dusty streets. Fragments of mortar bombs lay mingled with cooking pots and other hurriedly abandoned possessions. Bloodstained clothes and shoes lay scattered. Flies buzzed around the bloated corpse of a donkey.

Then came evidence of the murders: a stick smeared in blood, bullet holes scarring a wall. Witnesses spoke of seeing body parts and smelling burnt flesh. "I have not seen anything like this since Bosnia," said one UN monitor.

Laith al-Hemary, one of the few survivors, said: "The village is empty, there is nobody left. The houses are burned. The mosque is destroyed. The UN monitors saw the bullets and sticks that were used to kill people."

Video footage showed a woman in full black burka standing alone in the desecrated village screaming: "Assad did this. Security forces killed our boys."

No bodies were found in the village. Activists said that many had been swiftly buried in line with Islamic tradition. "We waited and waited for the monitors to come on Thursday, but they did not. We held funerals and buried them," said Mr al-Hemary.

Who perpetrated the crime has yet to be proved. Residents described the massacre as an act of sectarian revenge, blaming pro-government militiamen from the minority Alawite sect of President Bashar al-Assad.

A 35-year-old female survivor using the pseudonym Fatma al-Hamory told of the moment the attackers arrived. If true, her account implicates the regime's security forces in a massacre that counted among the bloodiest incidents since the onset of Syria's uprising.

"When it happened, I was 200 metres away," she said. "I was taking some food to my brother who was out irrigating our land. (When the attack began) my brother ran back to our house. They shot him in the leg, and hit him at his head. And then they placed him on a tank and took him.

"They were shouting: 'Assad or we burn the country'."

As the opposition Syrian National Council blamed the regime for the killings, rebel fighters in the area went on the offensive against government forces. Lt Khaled Ali, a spokesman for the opposition military council in the nearby city of Hama, said they undertook two operations, both in "revenge for the Qubair massacre".

Rebels of the Free Syrian Army attacked three checkpoints with rocket-propelled grenades, capturing one, and destroyed three tanks, he said.

Describing UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan as "dead", Lt Ali added: "We have the capacity to step up operations more than this ... but not to the point of winning control of the whole country if we do it alone.

"We are fighting a strong national army that has been arming itself for 40 years."

Meanwhile, there were also reports of serious clashes between rebels and government forces in Damascus last night.

Bullets

The violence was said to be concentrated around the Kfar Souseh district, where armed rebels had protested on Thursday. "The gunfire is so loud I think some bullets could have hit the house, I'm afraid to go outside to see what is happening," a resident of the nearby Mezze neighbourhood said.

With his six-point peace plan hanging by a thread, Mr Annan yesterday held talks with Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to renew the appeal he made at the UN on Thursday for the international community to come together and apply pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to implement his plan as promised.

"Some say that the plan may be dead," Mr Annan said before meeting Mrs Clinton in Washington.

"Is the problem the plan or the implementation? If it's implementation, how do we get action on that?

"And if it is the plan, what other options do we have?"

Earlier yesterday a deputy to Mrs Clinton was in Moscow trying to persuade the Russian government to agree to sanctions on Damascus.

In the central city of Homs, one of the main battlegrounds of the uprising, regime troops were trying to advance into the opposition-held district of Khaldiyeh from three sides, battling with armed rebels trying to stop them, said Tarek Badrakhan, an activist speaking via Skype.

"This is the worst shelling we've had since the start of the revolution," he said. A shell could be heard exploding in the background as he spoke.

Irish Independent

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