Monitors try to reach Syria 'massacre' village

UN monitors are trying to reach a Syrian village after a suspected massacre.

The head of a UN mission warned of "civil war" in Syria after his observers counted more than 92 bodies, 32 of them children on 26 May, 2012. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - U.N. monitors tried on Thursday to check reports of a massacre of at least 78 villagers by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad - killings that prompted another U.S. demand for the Syrian leader to cede power and leave the country.

Opposition activists said up to 40 women and children were among the dead in Mazraat al-Qubeir, near Hama, on Wednesday, posting film on the Internet of bloodied or charred bodies.

Confirmation will pile pressure on world powers to act, but they have been paralysed by rifts pitting Western and most Arab states against Assad's defenders in Russia, China and Iran.

Syria's pro-government Addounia TV said U.N. observers had arrived in Mazraat al-Qubeir. The chief of the U.N. mission said earlier that Syrian troops and civilians had barred them.

"They are being stopped at Syrian army checkpoints and in some cases turned back," General Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. observer mission, said in a statement. "Some of our patrols are being stopped by civilians in the area."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the latest reported massacre, which follows one in which 108 people were slain in the Syrian town of Houla on May 25, as unconscionable.

"We are disgusted by what we are seeing (in Syria)," she told a news conference during a visit to Istanbul.

YEMEN-STYLE TRANSITION?

Clinton said the United States was willing to work with all U.N. Security Council members, which include Russia, on a conference on Syria's political future. But it would have to start with the premise that Assad and his government give way to a democratic government, she said.

Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, was due to brief the U.N. Security Council in New York later on Thursday.

A senior Russian diplomat said Moscow would accept a Yemen-style power transition in Syria if were decided by the people, referring to a deal under which Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in February after a year of unrest.

"The Yemen scenario was discussed by the Yemenis themselves. If this scenario is discussed by Syrians themselves and is adopted by them, we are not against it," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

A Syrian official in Hama denied reports from Mazraat al-Qubeir, telling the state news agency that residents had asked security forces for help after a "terrorist group committed ... a monstrous crime", killing nine women and children.

U.N. observers sent to Syria to verify what has proved to be a non-existent truce brokered by Annan investigated the Houla massacre, which the chief U.N. peacekeeper said was probably the work of Syrian troops and "shabbiha" militia.

Activists say pro-Assad gunmen also perpetrated the killings in Mazraat al-Qubeir, moving in to shoot, club and stab their victims, backed by army tanks that shelled the village earlier.

Syrian authorities have also denied responsibility for the Houla killings, blaming foreign-backed Islamist militants.