The U.N. personnel, accompanied by a handful of reporters, encountered a virtual ghost town inhabited by swarms of flies and reeking of charred flesh, according to U.N. officials. Video footage released by the United Nations showed a series of disturbing scenes, including one of blood-spattered walls and another of homes bearing the pockmarks that have become the signature of the Syrian government’s shelling campaigns.
U.N. spokesman Kieran Dwyer said that the monitors were unable to talk to any witnesses of the attack but that they found evidence of fresh armored-vehicle tracks and homes damaged by rocket fire, grenades and a range of other weapons fire.
The “circumstances surrounding this attack are still unclear,” Dwyer said.
Surviving residents of the tiny village, a cluster of about 20 homes, said security forces had visited them the night before and threatened them with death if they cooperated with the monitors. Nonetheless, one resident said he covered his face and led the monitors on a tour of the devastation.
“We took them to the graves where we buried the bodies, we showed them the burned houses and the bloodstains in the other houses,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.
The evidence of what would be the second large-scale killing of Syrian civilians in three weeks has put additional pressure on the United States and its allies to scramble for a new strategy to contain the deepening sectarian violence. On Friday, in another indicator of the escalating violence, unusually fierce clashes broke out in Damascus, with residents reporting gunfire and explosions late into the night. And early Saturday, Syrian troops shelled the southern city of Daraa, killing at least 15 people, activist groups said.
Diplomats at the United Nations said representatives of the United States, Britain and France planned to begin work next week on a legally binding resolution that would for the first time impose international sanctions on Syria if it fails to halt its crackdown on civilians.
The push to ratchet up pressure reflects deepening concern that the prospects for averting a full-fledged civil war — and possibly regional unrest — are slipping away.
U.S. officials, in particular, are pushing Russia, which has withheld support of international action in Syria, to abandon President Bashar al-Assad, tighten bilateral sanctions, and support efforts by the armed and political opposition to challenge Assad’s rule.
In Washington, after meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan acknowledged that his peace plan was not working and that curbing the violence in Syria was “a real, real challenge.” He said that he and Clinton had discussed “how we can put additional pressure on the government, on the parties to get the plan implemented.”