New Syria massacre kills 78

Access denied: UN monitors trying to reach site shot at

Syrian troops and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad stood accused by opponents on Thursday of a new massacre of scores of villagers hours before a divided UN Security Council convenes to review the crisis.

If confirmed, the killings of at least 78 people at Mazraat al-Qabeer, near Hama, will pile on pressure for world powers to act, but there is little sign they can overcome a paralysis born of sharp divisions between Western and Arab states on the one hand and Assad’s defenders in Russia, China and Iran.

Several activists who monitor the 15-month-old revolt gave accounts to Reuters that women and children were among the dead when the village in central Syria came under artillery bombardment before fighters moved in on the ground and shot and stabbed dozens of people to death.

Echoing descriptions of a massacre of 108 civilians at Houla on May 25, which UN observers attributed to Assad’s troops and loyalist “shabbiha” militia, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, “Shabbiha headed into the area after the shelling and killed dozens of citizens, among them women and children.”

Some activists said at least 40 of the dead were women and children. At Houla, near Homs, nearly half had been children.

In that earlier case, Assad himself condemned the atrocity but denied any hand in it and blamed opponents whom he described as foreign-backed “terrorists”.

Shabbiha, drawn mostly from Assad’s minority Alawite sect that identifies with the Shi’ites of Iran, have been blamed for the killings of civilians from the Sunni Muslim majority. That has raised fears of an Iraq-style sectarian bloodbath and reinforced a wider regional confrontation between Iran and the mainly Sunni-led Arab states of the Middle East.

UN monitors attacked

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said UN monitors were shot at trying to get to the scene of the latest massacre.

The UN chief told the General Assembly on Thursday that the unarmed observers were initially denied access to the scene in central Hama and “were shot at with small arms” while trying to get there. He did not mention any casualties.

Ban said each day in Syria sees more “grim atrocities” and for many months it has been evident that President Bashar Assad and his government “have lost all legitimacy”.

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