Charred bodies proof of Syria massacre: witness
The charred bodies of women and children lay scattered in houses across farmland in central Syria after a brutal massacre allegedly carried out by pro-regime militiamen, a witness said.
"Burned bodies of children and women and girls were on the ground," Laith, a young villager, told AFP by telephone from near Al-Kubeir, a small Sunni enclave in the Syrian province of Hama after the killings on Wednesday.
"I saw something you cannot imagine. It was a horrifying massacre... people were executed and burned. Bodies of young men were taken away," Laith said, his voice trembling.
He gave only his first name for fear of being targeted by regime forces.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 55 people were killed in the assault on the hamlet.
Laith, from a nearby village, said the killings in Al-Kubeir, where not "a single demonstration" had been held against the Damascus regime, began at around 11am GMT on Wednesday, when it was surrounded by tanks.
"[Syrian troops] started to shell Al-Kubeir, and did not stop until 8pm," he said.
Pro-regime militiamen, known as shabiha, from nearby Alawite areas entered Al-Kubeir, he said.
"They had guns and knives... They went there from nearby villages like Asileh, which is Alawite," he said of the offshoot of Shiite Islam from which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family hails.
Laith said he had heard that the bodies of some young men from Al-Kubeir were taken to Asileh.
"I heard from people I know in that village that last night (Wednesday) the shabiha militiamen drank and danced around their corpses, chanting songs praising Assad," an emotional Laith claimed.
He said the murders were triggered when a farmer from the area wanted to enter Al-Kubeir but was turned away at a checkpoint between Asileh and Al-Kubeir.
"The farmer still managed to get into Al-Kubeir, and that's when regime forces started to deploy around the farmland," Laith said.
He vented his fury at UN observers for not arriving at the scene on Wednesday when they were called "about 30 times, begging them to come to Al-Kubeir to see what was happening."
"But they did not come. They might as well be working with the shabiha. We just can't take this any more... people are being killed, everything is a set-up, a lie. We only have God to rely on. Only God will help us."
Activists from Hama also blamed the shabiha for the murders in the hamlet, where some 150 shepherds and farmers lived.
"I think [the regime] used the thugs to deliver a message to the Syrian people that 'either you are with us or against us'," Abu Ghazi al-Hamwi* told AFP via Skype.
"People who do not take sides are a target, because the regime is running out of options on how to stop the revolt. The regime tries to prove this is a war, not an uprising. And this is how they do it."
He said Al-Kubeir was a Sunni enclave near Asileh and other Alawite villages.
"The violence is worst in areas where Sunni and Alawite live near each other. The regime is trying to break society in half," he said.
Hamwi said he spoke to a survivor of the massacre, who pretended to be dead after being hit on the head with a stick.
"He played dead in order to survive. He could barely speak. He was in a very bad shape. You can imagine, he'd just lost 35 members of his family," Hamwi said.
He also blamed UN observers for not heading to the site of the massacre quickly.
"When the army deployed there, and the shelling of around 20-25 houses started, activists called the UN monitors, who said they could not go because it was late in the day. For me that means they are just not professional," Hamwi said.
Another Hama-based activist, Mousab al-Hamadi said: "The regime wants to create a sectarian clash in the country. The regime wants to burn down the whole country."
Hamadi said Syrians had lost faith in the international community.
"Everyone here is depending on the FSA (Free Syrian Army). The international community has failed" us, he said, referring to rebel forces.
Hamadi said there was no FSA presence in Al-Kubeir which he said had not been reported to have taken sides in the uprising.
"For 40 years we have lived under oppression. We know more massacres like this may happen. We are ready to go to the end, even if it means half of the Syrian people might get killed," Hamadi said.
*Not his real name