The United Nations said its monitors in Syria were fired upon Thursday and prevented from accessing the site of a new massacre that has ramped up fears of a drift toward all-out civil war, AFP reported.
The UN’s four-vehicle convoy was hit by small arms fire in the nearby protest hub of Hama while en route to Al-Kubeir, where at least 78 people were killed by troops and militiamen loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A vehicle was damaged but the observers were unhurt, according to AFP.
“The patrol was forced to withdraw to a nearby government checkpoint,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. “The monitors were not able to enter Al-Kubeir today. They will try again tomorrow.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon told a later UN Security Council meeting that heavy weapons, armor-piercing bullets and surveillance drones had all been used against UN observers in Syria to hamper their efforts to monitor the worsening conflict.
Ban said Assad has “lost all legitimacy,” but Western powers appeared to have little idea how to end the violence as key Syrian ally Russia continued to oppose stronger action.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 55 people were killed in Wednesday's assault on Al-Kubeir, a small Sunni farming enclave surrounded by Alawite villages in the central province of Hama.
Regime forces are accused of bombarding the tiny settlement of Al-Kubeir before pro-militia thugs went on an afternoon killing spree, hacking, stabbing and shooting residents.
The Syrian opposition reacted by urging more armed rebellion to bring down Assad's brutal and defiant regime.
The Al-Kubeir incident comes after at least 108 people were killed in a massacre on May 25 near the central town of Houla, most of them women and children who were summarily executed.
Addressing a special session of the UN General Assembly hours after reports emerged of the slaughter in Al-Kubeir, Ban condemned the assault as "shocking and sickening" and blamed Assad.
“The trail of blood leads back to those responsible,” he said, according to AFP. “Any regime or leader that tolerates such killing of innocents has lost its fundamental humanity.”
A video posted on YouTube showed bodies of several children, including babies, wrapped in blankets and white plastic body bags. Some were charred beyond recognition. The Syrian government denied its authenticity.
Damascus denied responsibility and, as it has done repeatedly in the past, pointed the finger at “terrorists” backed by foreign forces.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a news conference in Istanbul Thursday that Assad “must transfer power and depart Syria”. She made the comments after meeting diplomats from Arab and Western nations.
The meeting was attended by foreign ministers or senior envoys from Britain, France, the European Union, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and 11 other governments. The group agreed on the need for international solidarity and increased sanctions against Assad, as well coordinated aid to the opposition and a plan for authority to be handed over to an interim government.
The future of Syria must include Assad's departure from power and establishment of a democratic government, Clinton stressed. She mentioned the massacre near Hama, saying:
“The regime-sponsored violence that we witnessed again in Hama yesterday is simply unconscionable. Assad has doubled down on his brutality and his duplicity and Syria will not, cannot be peaceful, stable or certainly democratic until Assad goes.”