Children among 78 feared dead in fresh Syrian 'massacre'
Pressure mounts on President Assad as pro-government shabiha militia accused of second massacre in two weeks
FORCES loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (pictured) were accused yesterday of killing up to 78 people, including women and children, in a massacre in the farming villages of Maazarif and Qubair, near Hama.
Activists claim pro-government militiamen, known as shabiha, killed civilians in their homes on Wednesday following intense shelling from tanks, The Daily Telegraph reports. The news will add to pressure from western nations for a transfer of power from President Assad.
The actual number of dead is unclear: The Financial Times reports that the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) initially put the figure at 24, but later estimates on Wednesday night from the Local Co-ordination Committee, an on-the-ground activist network in Syria, pushed that number up to 78.
Some of the victims, as in the attacks in Houla two weeks ago, were stabbed, and at least 12 bodies were burned. Reports and images of the incident spread rapidly on Twitter and other social networks but were impossible to verify independently given the lack of media access to much of Syria.
Pictures showed charred corpses lying amid rubble and a dead child who had apparently been shot in the face.
"Today the regime troops started to shell the village. Under this cover the shabiha entered the village while people were hiding in their homes. They killed everyone they found in the houses or streets by knives," said Mohammed Abu Bilal, an activist who claimed to have spoken to a survivor.
Opposition activists from the nearby city of Hama told the Telegraph that almost the entire population of the collection of houses in the area may be dead.
"The farms have around 130 people. The last count of identified bodies is about 37, but our reporters there confirmed 78 martyrs," said Sammy, an activist from the opposition Hama news agency.
"Thirty men kidnapped by security forces were taken to the supporting villages that are from the Alawite sect. We heard information that the bodies were being tied to cars and dragged. They are celebrating. We heard this from many people."
One of Qubair's residents told the BBC that when the army and militia left the village, he had discovered about 40 bodies - mostly women and children who had been stabbed to death. Among the victims were four members of his family, the villager said. He added that he saw the burned corpse of a three-month-old baby.
The killings were reported as representatives of more than 55 countries pressing for Assad's resignation threatened to sharply expand their financial pressure on his government at a meeting in Washington sponsored by the United States Treasury, and as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travelled to Turkey, an outspoken critic of Syria, for further talks on how to quickly reach a solution, according to The New York Times.
Members of the 300-strong force of UN monitors in Syria are likely to investigate the Qubair incident, The Guardian reports. But the SOHR said: "If their mission is to merely watch Syrian people die during breaches of the ceasefire, rather than helping in stopping any breaches by being physically on the ground, then we do not require their help."
The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser of Qatar, said it was possible that a resolution would be passed to put further pressure on the Syrian government after hearing from the UN envoy to Syria Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the president of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, today.
"We are talking about stopping the violence and implementing Mr. Annan's six-point plan, which the Syrian government agreed on," he said. "We don't see any positive action. Violence is still going on and that is not acceptable."