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‘Heavy’ Syrian Army Presence Around City Near Suspected Massacre Site

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
June 8, 2012

United Nations monitors who were turned back Thursday by small arms fire are trying again today to reach a village in central Syria where activists say dozens of civilians were killed this week by army forces or militia fighters loyal to President Bashar Assad.

NPR’s Deborah Amos, who is among a group of journalists following the monitors, tells our Newscast desk that as the convoy drove further into central Syria today the army presence grew heavy.

There are “lots of soldiers” along the roads leading into the city of Hama, which is near the site of the suspected massacre, Deb reported. It is a “very, very stiff military presence.”

The government of President Bashar Assad denies it was responsible for any mass killings in the area this week. But activists say there was shelling and that some women and children were executed by gunmen. The reports echo what happened on May 25 in Houla, Syria, when forces loyal to Assad killed more than 100 people.

It was quiet earlier today, Deb added, in Hama. There did not appear to be any anti-Assad protesters out in the streets. Since anti-Assad protests began in March 2011, Friday (the Muslim holy day) has frequently been the time for demonstrations. But that’s also meant that Fridays have seen some of the most brutal force used against protesters.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that “fresh fighting was reported elsewhere on Friday as the authorities sought to extend their writ in an area under stubborn rebel control. The new shelling by government forces in the central city of Homs came a day after sharp denunciations of Damascus from diplomats who have struggled vainly to find a workable, consensus solution to the crisis.”

According to The Associated Press, “Syrian troops on Friday shelled a rebel-held neighborhood in the flashpoint central city of Homs as Assad’s troops appeared to be readying to storm the area that has been out of government control for months, activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees had no immediate word on casualties from the shelling of Hom’s Khaldiyeh neighborhood. Amateur videos posted online showed a small white plane, apparently a drone, flying over Homs.”

Update at 8:30 a.m. ET. A “Surge” By The Monitors, But Will Results Be Inconclusive?

From “a road outside the village” where the massacre reportedly occurred, Deb tells the Newscast Desk that the U.N. has mounted something of “a surge” as it tries to get monitors to the site. About 20 personnel — many more than the handful who usually travel on such missions — are on today’s trip.

But she also says that the village, which she can see from her vantage point, is quite small. Probably no more than 100 or 130 people would live there. If there’s no one left there, as is possible, “we could still come up with an inconclusive narrative,” Deb says, with the Assad regime claiming that only about nine people died there and activists saying there were more than 80 deaths.

Update at 8 a.m. ET. Security Team Entering Village.

The BBC’s Paul Danahar, another of the journalists following the monitors, writes on his Twitter page (@pdanahar) that:

“Am now on outskirts of Qubeir #Syria where Wednesday’s massacre took place. The UN has sent in a forward team to assess the safety situation.”

[Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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