The commander of United Nations monitors seeking to gain access to the site of a reported mass killing in central Syria said on Thursday that his forces were being blocked by army checkpoints and civilians in a standoff that seemed to mirror a looming diplomatic stalemate over the crisis.Assad continues to claim that the reports are baseless all while blaming this and other mass casualty incidents on the rebel groups.
If verified, the massacre, reported on Wednesday, would be the fourth in less than two weeks, threatening to inject a new surge of angry momentum into the growing international effort to isolate President Bashar al-Assad and remove him from power.
But efforts to establish what happened in the village of Qubeir, the site of the reported mass killing, suffered a severe setback on Thursday as United Nations monitors were “being stopped at Syrian army checkpoints and in some cases turned back,” according to Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the observer team, in a statement issued by the United Nations office in Geneva.
“Some of our patrols are being stopped by civilians in the area,” the statement said, an apparent reference to armed militiamen controlled by the government and known as shabiha.
General Mood also said that, while United Nations observers were still trying to gain access, “we are receiving information from residents of the area that the safety of our observers is at risk” if they seek to enter the village.
The developments on the ground echoed a deepening standoff in international diplomacy, suggesting that hitherto intractable differences over the crisis were likely to endure or worsen.
As with the Houla massacre, it appears that the Hama massacre involved multiple executions with knives and close weapons. Many of those killed appeared to be from a single extended family.
Assad continues playing by the Hama rules - conducting massacres and brutal crackdowns in drips and drabs rather than one fell swoop. In the process, he doesn't completely piss off his patrons in China, Russia and Iran who continue backing his regime and thwarting more serious action at the United Nations. However, the body count is piling up and it is an inescapable conclusion that Assad must go - and the rebel forces will need more than just talk to make that happen.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Assad to go, but unless the US backs those words with military power and/or assistance to the rebel groups, that's all it will be - talk.
UN observers were shot at while trying to reach the scene of the latest massacre in the Hama province. They don't have the authority or ability to fight (let alone defend themselves) and aren't peacekeepers, so they're in the worst kind of position imaginable. They can only bear witness to the atrocities committed by Assad and his goons, as well as those carried out by the rebel forces.
There's no way to know who fired on the observers, but expect Assad to blame the rebels for this attack, even though the rebels have every reason to want the UN to see this if Assad's forces were behind the massacre. But then, Assad blames all the casualties on the rebel forces, even though there's little evidence that the rebels have the kinds of artillery needed to open fire at a distance (as reported in each of these massacres), when militias then finish the task with execution style murders.