For the second time in two weeks, supporters and fighters loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have taken to horrific killings and violence in the country’s western province of Hama. Assad’s militia, known as shabiha, is said to have completely gutted buildings and emptied the village. Bodies were burned and removed by the militia men. Blame has, once again, been thrown back-and-forth between pro- and anti-government forces.
In the 140-person village of Qubair, unconfirmed reports say 78 were killed, of which many were innocent men, women, and children. Qubair, a very poor rural agricultural area, has not seen any anti-government protests. However, the neighboring Maarzaf village is strongly opposed to the regime.
It is very difficult to assess the accuracy of the claims. Observers from the United Nations’ 297-person unarmed team were ‘shot at’ and prevented access to the area, according to Kofi Annan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Locals from Qubair and neighboring villages seem to have the same story; they recounted that the villages were shelled by tanks, and then stormed by shabiha members, who slaughtered villagers with knives and burned them (dead and alive). In a report published by The Independent, an activist by the name of Laith Al Mahawi, claimed “[the bodies of women and children] were all burnt,” including a three-month-old infant burned alive.
The stakes are rising in Syria as new waves of violence continue to rock the area. The country is teetering on the brink of a catastrophic civil war that could last decades and bring unprecedented violence. Annan and Ki-moon addressed the United Nations yesterday, leaving international diplomats in complete shock and disgust with reports on the worsening situation in the region.
The UN estimates that at least 9,000 people have died since the pro-democracy conflicts began in March 2011. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for Assad to step down from power and European and North American countries have expelled their Syrian diplomats. Russia and China have twice blocked Security Council resolutions against Syria and have shown opposition to external military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Secretary-General Ki-moon, hinting at the need for more than just sanctions, asked the question, “How many more times have we to condemn them?”