Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Syrian activists report wave of violence in Hama province

Syrian opposition activists reported a mass killing of villagers by pro-government militiamen and security forces on Wednesday — if verified, the fourth massacre in less than two weeks — threatening to inject a new surge of angry momentum into the growing international effort to isolate President Bashar Assad and remove him from power.

The accounts of the mass killing, in the village of Qubeir in central Hama province, could not be independently corroborated, and U.N. monitors in Syria could not immediately gain access to the site. The accounts said that as many as 78 civilians were killed, half of them women and children, including 35 members of one family. Some were burned and stabbed.

The killings were reported as representatives of more than 55 countries pressing for Assad's resignation threatened to sharply expand their financial pressure on his government at a meeting in Washington sponsored by the U.S. Treasury, and as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Turkey, an outspoken critic of Syria, for further talks on how to quickly reach a solution to the Syria crisis that would depose Assad.

A senior Western official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the New York Times that Clinton was sending Fred Hof, a special Middle East envoy from the State Department, to Moscow today to assess whether Russia and the United States could achieve a common vision on a post-Assad political transition in Syria. Russia, which has been Assad's most powerful foreign backer, has repeatedly opposed outside intervention in the Syrian conflict but has recently suggested it is not opposed to new leadership in Syria, its most important ally in the Middle East.

If the Qubeir massacre accounts are confirmed, they are likely to place enormous new pressure on Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy to Syria from the United Nations and the Arab League.

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