BEIRUT, June 8 (Reuters) - United Nations monitors entered the Syrian hamlet of Mazraat al-Qubeir on Friday, where opposition activists say at least 78 people were massacred, a U.N. source said.
The U.N. observers had been trying to reach the tiny farming village of about 150 people since Thursday but had been shot at and turned back by both security forces and residents.
Some 300 U.N. observers are in Syria to monitor a ceasefire between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels that was declared by envoy Kofi Annan on April 12 but never implemented.
A correspondent for the BBC, Paul Danahar, said he was with the U.N. team and described the first traces of a violent scene in the village using his Twitter account.
"In front of me there is a piece of brain, in the corner there is a mass of congealed blood ... The largest of the two houses on the hilltop in Qubeir has been gutted by fire. The stench of flesh is still strong," he wrote. "Inside the buildings are gutted. The U.N. have not found any people yet."
Syria's 15-month-old revolt has grown increasingly bloody. If confirmed, the killings in Mazraat al-Qubeir would be the second massacre of civilians within two weeks.
The Syrian government condemned the May 25 killings in Houla and the Wednesday attack on Mazraat al-Qubeir but blamed both on "terrorists," who Assad has said are being steered from abroad to stir unrest in the country.
U.N. monitors previously visited the town of Houla where security forces and pro-Assad militia men killed 108 people, nearly half of them children, according to anti-Assad activists.
U.N. monitors tried to enter Mazraat al-Qubeir, 20 km (13 miles) northwest of the city of Hama, on Thursday but were stopped at army checkpoints and by civilians in the area.
One U.N. observer told Reuters by telephone that villagers had surrounded the team's cars to block their passage, but said their motives were not clear.
Activists say army tanks shelled Mazraat al-Qubeir and then stormed in with plainclothes gunmen, killing more than half of the village's 150 residents and burning many of their bodies.
Syrian state television, apparently reporting from Mazraat al-Qubeir on Thursday before the monitors' arrival, interviewed several people who covered their faces and said 500 rebels had attacked the hamlet.
Syria TV showed footage of a concrete building gashed with bullet holes and what appeared to be mortar or shell fire.
"They slaughtered men, women and children," a woman swathed in black shouted. "This is horrible." (Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
BEFORE YOU GO
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS