Damascus accuses U.S. of encouraging massacres in Syria


Syria on Tuesday accused Washington of encouraging more massacres in the strife-torn country and of meddling in its internal affairs.

“The U.S. administration is pushing forth with its flagrant interference in Syria’s internal affairs and its backing of armed terrorist groups,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“U.S. statements distort the truth and what is happening on the ground while encouraging armed terrorist groups to carry out more massacres... not only in al-Haffeh but throughout the country,” it added.

Meanwhile Pro-Syrian regime villagers on Tuesday prevented United Nations observers from reaching the town of al-Haffeh where there are fears that a new massacre might be carried out, a watchdog said.

“Residents of the pro-regime village of As-Sheer blocked the road and prevented the U.N. observer team from reaching al-Haffeh,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said people “lay down on the road blocking access to the vehicles of the observers,” who then began looking for another route into to the town, in the northwestern province of Latakia.

It added that government forces were shelling al-Haffeh and nearby villages with dozens of people reportedly wounded, some of them critically.

A local activist reached by AFP via Skype said residents of As-Sheer, located on the road to Al-Haffeh, threw stones at the U.N. vehicles forcing them to turn back.

“The monitors were on their way, but while crossing As-Sheer, residents threw stones at them and forced them to turn around,” Abu Mohammed said.

“We asked the monitors to tell this to the media, but they said they did not want to,” he added.

Syrian state television reported that U.N. vehicles had run over three residents near Latakia who were trying to explain to the observers the suffering they were being subjected to by “armed terrorist groups.”

Al-Haffeh has been pounded for more than a week, while Free Syrian Army rebels have clashed with regime troops at the town’s edges in fierce fighting, Abu Mohammed said, adding that “the town is completely besieged but regime forces have so far been unable to enter it.”

At least 120 people have been killed in the fighting, including 68 troops, 29 civilians and 23 rebel fighters, with hundreds wounded, Abdel Rahman told AFP.

While clashes on the edges of town have been vicious, activists fear that should regime forces make it inside, the consequences would be massive.

“Many of the residents have been unable to flee, and as it is, there has been no supply of bread or medical equipment to al-Haffeh for a week,” said Abu Mohammed.

Rebels said they had sent civilians to the outskirts of al-Haffeh when the eight-day siege began, but that those areas were now also being shelled. The army and pro-Assad militia men were surrounding Haffeh, they added.

The activist added that the neighboring village of Tfil “has been completely destroyed by shelling. Only one or two houses remain,” he said.

Violence persists

Elsewhere in Syria, violence persisted overnight in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, where activists said troops fired mortar bombs at an anti-Assad demonstration, killing at least 10 protesters.

Many hundreds of people, including civilians, rebels and members of Assad’s army and security forces, have been killed since a ceasefire deal brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan exactly two months ago was supposed to halt the bloodshed.

Annan’s spokesman said on Tuesday he hoped to convene a meeting of an international contact group on Syria soon, saying he was encouraged by broad support for the idea.

But he gave no date for the meeting and said no venue or list of participants has yet been set. The United States and some Western allies have resisted proposals for Iran to take part, accusing Tehran of "stage-managing" Assad’s crackdown on the 15-month-old uprising.

The revolt against Assad erupted in March last year as popular demands for greater freedom, inspired by Arab revolts which have toppled four veteran leaders. But the protests have become overshadowed by an increasingly well-armed insurgency, fuelled by weapons brought by smugglers and defecting troops.

Reports of two massacres in Houla and Mazraat al-Qubeir, which activists and Western powers say were carried out by pro-Assad forces but authorities blame on Islamist "terrorists" have hardened sectarian divides.

On Tuesday, state television channel Syria TV reported that "terrorist groups" had seized two buses in Homs province and kidnapped all the passengers. It gave no other details.