Three teams of observers from the United Nations monitoring mission in Syria traveled to the outskirts of the village of Qubeir, where the opposition says regime forces massacred scores of people on Wednesday.
CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, traveling with the U.N. observers, says that in total three teams – from Damascus, Hama and Homs – were expected to try and get into the village in 11 vehicles, traveling in “waves”. One vehicle entered the village, which Palmer described as little more than a collection of houses, to assess safety conditions. Other vehicles remained outside awaiting the green light to enter.
A contingent of U.N. staff was blocked from the village on Thursday by Syrian military personnel at checkpoints, and by mobs of angry locals chanting pro-Assad slogans and warning the observers that they would be met with violence if they entered Qubeir. Members of the U.N. mission tell Palmer that some observers were detained for hours Thursday by state forces.
Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the observer mission, said Thursday that some U.N. staff have come under fire this week in Syria as they try to carry out their work. There have been no reported casualties among the U.N. staff.
The city of Hama, where the observers gathered on Friday, is only about 15 miles from Qubeir, which also sits within the province of Hama. (Click the player at left to see Palmer’s Thursday report on the alleged massacre)
Riding in the 11 armored vehicles Friday will be about 20 observers and 10 additional U.N. staff, says Palmer. The observers do not carry weapons and are not
On Thursday night, international envoy Kofi Annan pinned the lion’s share of the blame on Assad’s regime for letting his six-point peace plan whither amid continuing bloodshed. Annan told the U.N. Security Council there must be “consequences” for that obstruction to his ceasefire plan – a clear hint that further sanctions should be considered.
The Qubeir massacre – which has yet to be independently confirmed as no foreign journalists or U.N. staff have accessed the village – was the third significant discovery of bodies in about a week. In each case, opposition groups say a combination of government regular forces and government-backed militiamen, known as shabiha, were behind the deaths.
Assad’s regime, however, dismisses any culpability, claiming that “terrorists” – a word the government uses to describe opposition members – are behind the deaths. In Qubeir, the government says Syrian soldiers entered the village on Wednesday to find nine civilian bodies already dead, their bodies burned.
Until the U.N. monitors can get into the village, the vastly different accounts of what happened in Qubeir coming from the regime and the opposition cannot be reconciled.
Even when the observers do get in, questions will be asked about what may have taken place in the village between the incident and the arrival of those first impartial eyes.
For two days now, only the Syrian government has had access to Qubeir. The worry is there might not be much left for the observers to observe when they finally make it into the village.
Meanwhile, videos posted online Friday showed what activist groups claim was renewed shelling by state forces in the already-battered central city of Homs. The reports could not be immediately confirmed. Homs, parts of which have been held by rebel forces for months, has seen some of the worst violence in the 15-month-old Syrian uprising.