A Syrian army bombardment of the southern city of Daraa yesterday killed 17 civilians, most of them women and children, a human rights watchdog said, as anger grew over a massacre in a central village.
UN observers who visited the village of Al-Kubeir said they witnessed blood on the walls and “a strong stench of burnt flesh,” prompting Western governments to launch a push for tougher sanctions against Damascus.
Nine women and three children were among the dead in the pre-dawn bombardment of a residential neighborhood of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Dozens of people were also wounded in the city, cradle of the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that erupted in March last year, the UK-based watchdog said.
Mobile communications in Daraa were cut off yesterday morning, it added.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said that the bombardment might have been in reprisal for increased rebel attacks on government troops in recent days.
“Rebels have been attacking checkpoints in many areas across the country in the evenings,” he said.
Diplomats in New York said the UK, France and the US would quickly draw up a UN Security Council resolution proposing sanctions against Syria.
“We will move fast to press for a resolution,” one UN diplomat said.
More than 20 unarmed UN observers were allowed into Al-Kubeir on Friday, a day after they were shot at and prevented from entering the village.
“Inside some of the houses, blood was visible across the walls and floors. Fire was still burning outside houses and there was a strong stench of burnt flesh,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in New York.
At least 55 people were killed in Wednesday’s assault on Al-Kubeir, according to the Syrian Observatory.
UN officials, unable to confirm that toll, have made it clear they believe government forces and allies were behind the attack on the mainly Sunni Muslim village surrounded by an Alawite population loyal to al-Assad.
“Armored vehicle tracks were visible in the vicinity. Some homes were damaged by rockets from armored vehicles, grenades and a range of caliber weapons,” Nesirky said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the UN Security Council that according to preliminary evidence, troops had surrounded Al-Kubeir and militia entered the village and killed civilians with “barbarity.” Damascus denied responsibility and blamed foreign-backed “terrorists,” as it has done repeatedly in the past.
Violence on Friday killed at least 68 people nationwide — 36 civilians, 25 soldiers and seven rebel fighters, the Observatory said. More than 13,500 people have been killed since the start of the uprising.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan called for “additional pressure” in the wake of the latest killings.
The former UN leader said he would discuss with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “how we can put additional pressure on the government and the parties to get the [UN-Arab League peace] plan implemented.”
A UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “There will be action in the coming days to get a vote on a resolution which includes measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter — which would mean sanctions.”