Terror in Sunni village
It was not possible to independently confirm many details of the massacre Wednesday afternoon in Qubair, a Sunni hamlet northwest of the city of Hama that is surrounded by villages populated by members of Assad’s Shiite-affiliated Alawite sect.
But activists and residents contacted in the area described circumstances similar to those in Houla, a Sunni village northwest of Homs where pro-government militiamen — known as the shabiha — massacred 108 civilians May 25, allegedly with the aid of security forces.
Qubair resident Laith Hamawi said his mother and brothers were among the victims. He said he was about half a mile away in his olive fields when he saw security forces and shabiha members converge on the village of about 150 residents from three directions.
“I was scared to move, so I hid,” he said in an interview.
For several hours, Hamawi said, he heard shooting and tank fire and saw houses burning. After the troops left, he said, he returned home and found the bodies of his mother and brothers.
Most of those killed in Qubair were from the Yateem family, and 40 were women and children, other activists said. They said that government forces took at least 30 of the corpses with them and that other bodies were burned when homes were set on fire. Residents waited much of the day to show the remaining corpses to U.N. monitors, but when they did not arrive, the villagers buried the dead.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency denied as “absolutely baseless” the reports that Assad loyalists had carried out the killings. Government forces moved into the area and killed “terrorists” after an “armed terrorist group” killed nine women and children, the news agency said.
No consensus on response
Annan has been seeking support for a plan to set up a new negotiating bloc — or contact group — that includes representatives from the United States, Russia, Iran, and other regional and global powers, according to diplomats familiar with the proposal. The group would be tasked with drawing up a transition plan, including presidential and parliamentary elections, and using its influence to persuade the rival Syrian parties to accept the proposal.
Despite Annan’s call for unity, sharp differences remain between, on the one hand, Western and Arab governments, which favor the imposition of sanctions on Syria, and, on the other, China and Russia, which have resisted such measures and oppose any international effort to oust the Syrian leadership.
In a possible sign of softening in Russia’s position, Vitaly Churkin, Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations, told his Security Council counterparts that Russia could accept a political transition in Syria that resulted in Assad stepping down.
“We are not wedded to Assad. We have had that position from the start,” Churkin said, according to a Security Council official present during the closed session. “If he had to go, as a result of a political process, we wouldn’t be so upset.”
Sly reported from Beirut, and Warrick reported from Washington. Special correspondent Suzan Haidamous in Beirut contributed to this report.