U.N. meets to discuss Syria amid reports of new massacre

Annan — the special envoy to Syria — will address separate meetings of the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council in New York. The council comprises 15 countries while the assembly is made up of 193 members of the United Nations.

Both meetings will focus on the escalating crisis in Syria in the wake of reports of massacres within weeks of each other.

Opposition activists accused forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of killing 78 people in a tiny village in Hama province Wednesday.

Regime forces shelled Qubeir village before militias on foot used knives, guns and AK-47s to kill residents, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

About 40 victims of the attack in Qubeir were buried in a mass grave Thursday, according to a youth activist whom CNN is not naming for safety reasons. Shabiha — or pro-government gangs — took other bodies to neighboring villages, the activist said.

He said residents are awaiting the arrival of U.N. monitors to give them their account.

More than half of those killed were women and children, according to a local activist who evacuated bodies.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports from within Syria because the government strictly limits access by foreign journalists.

The government blamed a terrorist group for the massacre, saying it was timed to coincide with the U.N. meetings to make the regime look bad.

Two weeks ago, a massacre in Houla left more than 100 people dead, including women and children. Opposition activists blamed the deaths on government forces and allied militia, a claim al-Assad denied.

“Truthfully, even monsters do not do what we saw, especially in the Houla massacre,” al-Assad told the nation’s lawmakers this week.

He blamed the Houla attack on armed groups.

“At this time, we are facing a war from abroad,” al-Assad said in his first public speech since January. “Dealing with it is different from dealing with people from inside.”

International outrage has grown over the recent violence, leading to revived calls to isolate the regime. On Wednesday, the international Friends of Syria group met in Washington to discuss tougher sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said those sanctions are having an impact, with businesses cutting their ties to the region and senior Syrian officials seeing their funds frozen and travel curtailed.

But China and Russia, steadfast regime allies, reiterated their opposition to outside interference in Syria.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the leaders of both countries said they oppose foreign military intervention or forced regime change in Syria.

In the statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, the leaders said they want a domestic political solution in Syria.

“We firmly believe that the Syrian crisis has to be resolved fairly and peacefully by having all parties in conflict stop violence and start comprehensive political dialogue without foreign interference,” they said in a statement during Putin’s visit to Beijing.

The United States plans to send a delegation to Russia this week to press for tough action against the Syrian regime, a senior State Department official said.

The crisis in Syria started nearly 15 months ago when a government crackdown on protesters spiraled out of control and spawned a national anti-regime uprising.

The United Nations for months has said more than 9,000 people have died in Syria. But death counts from opposition groups range from more than 12,000 to more than 14,000. Tens of thousands have been displaced.

Annan brokered a cease-fire that went into effect in April, but it has failed to halt the bloodshed in the nation.


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