UN observers see a Syrian massacre site
BEIRUT -- UN observers could smell the stench of burned corpses Friday and saw body parts scattered around a Syrian farming hamlet that was the scene of a massacre this week in which nearly 80 men, women and children were reported slain.
The observers were finally able to get inside the deserted village of Mazraat al-Qubair after being blocked by government troops and residents, and coming under small-arms fire Thursday, a day after the slayings were first reported.
In central Damascus, rebels brazenly battled government security forces in the heart of the capital Friday for the first time, witnesses said, and explosions echoed for hours.
Government artillery repeatedly pounded the central city of Homs and troops tried to storm it from three sides.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with international envoy Kofi Annan in Washington to discuss how to salvage his faltering plan to end 15 months of bloodshed in Syria. Western nations blame President Bashar Assad for the violent crackdown on anti-government protests that grew out of the Arab Spring.
The UN team was the first independent group to arrive in Mazraat al-Qubair, a village of about 160 people in central Hama province. Opposition activists and Syrian government officials blamed each other for the killings and differed about the number of dead.
Activists said that up to 78 people, including women and children, were shot, hacked and burned to death, saying pro-government militiamen known as "shabiha" were responsible.
A government statement on the state-run news agency SANA said "an armed terrorist group" killed nine women and children before Hama authorities were called and killed the attackers.
The UN observers also visited a cemetery where some of the dead were buried, according to an activist in Mazraat al-Qubair.