DAMASCUS – Dozens of Syrian civilians, including children and women, have reportedly been slaughtered by security forces and militiamen loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad, in the latest bout of bloodshed in the pivotal Arab country.
"After the army fired on one area, security forces and shabbiha would go inside the houses,” a farmer from the village of Mazraat al-Kubeir, told Reuters.
“I heard gunshots inside three houses, then I saw them come out and burn them," the witness said.
"Most of the time I couldn't hear anything over the artillery fire ... By 8 p.m., they were finished."
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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 78 people were slaughtered in the village after army troops pounded the area.
Activists say militiamen loyal to Assad’s regime stormed into the village on Wednesday afternoon armed with guns and knives.
They then went on a killing spree, hacking, stabbing and shooting residents as they tried to flee.
"There was smoke rising from the buildings and a horrible smell of human flesh burning," the witness told Reuters, as he hid in his family olive grove.
"It was like a ghost town.”
A video posted on YouTube showed bodies of several children, including babies, wrapped in blankets and white plastic body bags, apparently victims of the massacre. Some were charred beyond recognition.
Each body had a label, and the video, whose authenticity could not be verified, shows the faces of several dead infants. Dried blood can be seen on the face of one child.
The new massacre came two weeks after more than 100 people, including many children, were slaughtered in the Syrian city of Houla.
Assad has denounced the "abominable" Houla killings, saying it was inconceivable that Syrian soldiers could have done them.
The Syrian government was quick to deny responsibility for the alleged massacre.
"What a few media have reported on what happened in Al-Kubeir, in the Hama region, is completely false," it said in a televised statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"A terrorist group committed a heinous crime in the Hama region which claimed nine victims. The reports by the media are contributing to spilling the blood of Syrians.”
More than 12,600 people have been killed in Syria since a revolt against Assad's rule broke out in March 2011.
The Syrian regime blames the violence on “terrorists” and armed gangs.
The Syrian opposition called for a military action against Assad’s regime to put an end to the ongoing bloodshed in the country.
"The Syrian National Council calls on the (rebel) Free Syrian Army to step up military assaults on regime forces to break the siege against the civilian population and protect civilians throughout the country," Mohammed Sermini, spokesman for the coalition, told AFP.
If confirmed, the new massacre will pile on pressure for world powers to act on the ongoing bloodshed in Syria.
"Assad has doubled down on his brutality and duplicity and Syria will not, cannot be peaceful, stable or certainly democratic until Assad goes," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on a visit to Istanbul, Turkey.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has also called for doubling efforts to isolate the Syrian regime.
"We need to do much more to isolate Syria, to isolate the regime, to put the pressure on and to demonstrate that the whole world wants to see a political transition from this illegitimate regime to actually see one that can take care of its people," he said during a quick stop in Oslo.
In Beijing on Thursday, leaders of a grouping led by Russia and China issued a statement opposing military intervention in the Middle East.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) also called for a "peaceful resolution of the Syrian problem through political dialogue" in a statement released at the end of a two-day summit.
"Member states are against military intervention into this region's affairs, forcing a 'handover of power' or using unilateral sanctions," it said, referring to the Middle East and North Africa.Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions against Assad's regime, but backed UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan's blueprint to end the conflict.
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