United Nations monitors in Syria said they will continue on Friday efforts to reach the site of a massacre in the central province of Hama where close to 100 civilians were reportedly slain on Wednesday by militants loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The monitors were unable to visit the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir on Thursday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in New York, said there were stopped at Syrian army checkpoints shot at by small arms.
The U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) is caught between hostile troops accused of firing at its patrols and increasingly bitter Syrians who cannot understand why it has not halted the bloodshed, officials said.
Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, likened the monitors to “300 sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, one IED from a disaster,” at a recent U.N. Security Council meeting.
The Syrian government rebuffed accusations that it carried out the massacre and reported there had been only nine deaths.
Opposition groups said the “new massacre” was carried out at a farm by the pro-regime Shabiha militia armed with guns and knives after regular troops had shelled the area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
But the Syrian regime denied any involvement.
“What a few media have reported on what happened in al-Qubair, in the Hama region, is completely false,” the government said in a statement on official television.
“A terrorist group committed a heinous crime in the Hama region which claimed nine victims. The reports by the media are contributing to spilling the blood of Syrians,” the statement said.
The deaths follow a two-day massacre that began on May 25 near the central town of Houla, where at least 108 people were killed, while most of them women and children who were summarily executed, according to the United Nations.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said are also civilians are being forced to flee their homes to escape the daily fighting.
The humanitarian agency said that sick or wounded people were finding it difficult to reach medical services or buy food.
“As a global overview, the situation is rather tense in terms of fighting in many, many areas of Syria,” ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told a news briefing in Geneva.
Syria’s 15-month revolt against President Assad’s rule has grown increasingly bloody in recent months, raising concerns the country may be slipping towards civil war.
Both massacres have happened in the presence of United Nations observers, a 300-strong force sent into Syria to observe a ceasefire deal brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan. The truce was hardly observed by the government or the rebels, who last week said they would no longer honor the ceasefire because of recent killings.