U.N. team said to reach latest Syria massacre site
BEIRUT -- United Nations observers were reported Friday to have reached a village in the central Syrian province of Hama where opposition activists said dozens of civilians were slain this week.
There was no immediate official word on what the U.N. observers had found in Mazraat al-Qubeir, a farming enclave west of Hama city.
To date, there has been no independent confirmation of what exactly took place in the village, although both sides in the Syrian conflict agree that an egregious crime occurred there.
A U.N. team had been blocked from entering the village on Thursday and was also shot at, though no one was injured, the U.N. said.
The alleged massacre -- at least the third mass killing reported in Syria during the last two weeks -- drew international condemnation and highlighted the failure so far of a U.N.-brokered peace plan to stem the violence.
Opposition advocates have reported that pro-government forces massacred as many as 78 people in a shelling-and-execution rampage that began Wednesday.
The Syrian state-run news agency reported that "armed terrorist groups" -- the usual government description of rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad -- "stormed" the isolated area and attacked women and children. The government news service reported nine dead and denounced the "horrific crime."
Each side in the Syrian conflict has repeatedly blamed the other for atrocities.
A BBC correspondent, Paul Danahar, accompanied the U.N. observers in Hama and reported an "appalling scene" of "congealed blood," human flesh and brain matter at one site in the stricken hamlet.
"There is no one alive in this village to tell us what happened," reported the BBC correspondent, who said his team was told that men in civilian clothes hauled the bodies away in a pickup truck.
The mission of nearly 300 U.N. observers been unable to stop the violence in Syria, but has provided some of the first independent documentation of events on the ground. The Syrian government has severely restricted the entry of journalists and human rights investigators.
On the diplomatic front, U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan was in Washington on Friday, meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a bid to breathe new life into his failing six-point peace plan, widely violated by both sides.
A day earlier, Annan warned the U.N. General Assembly in New York that Syria's future could be "one of brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence and even all-out civil war" if his peace plan fails and no alternative emerges.
Annan acknowledged doubts about the plan in an appearance with Clinton before the two began their talks. "Is the problem the plan, or is it the implementation?" he asked.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently a special envoy to Syria, talk to the media Friday prior to meeting at the State Department in Washington. Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA