Monitors find grim proof of killing as they finally reach Syrian village

Violence intensifies across Syria but UN fails to find consensus on how to tackle growing crisis

New York

As the global diplomatic effort to contain the crisis in Syria continued to falter last night, a team of UN monitors reportedly found clear and graphic evidence of violence in the farming settlement of Qubair, scene of the reported massacre of 78 civilians on Wednesday.

Those killings, the massacre of more than a 100 civilians in the town of Houla last month, as well as new reports yesterday of violence in several cities across the country, is spurring new hand-wringing in foreign capitals and at the United Nations with little sign of concerted action being agreed.

There were also reports of serious clashes between rebels and government forces in Damascus last night. The violence was said to be concentrated around the Kfar Souseh district, where armed rebels had protested on Thursday. "The gunfire is so loud I think some bullets could have hit the house, I'm afraid to go outside to see what is happening," a resident of the nearby Mezze neighbourhood told Reuters.

With his six-point peace plan hanging by a thread, Kofi Annan yesterday held talks with Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to renew the appeal he made at the UN on Thursday for the international community to come together and apply pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to implement his plan as promised.

"Some say that the plan may be dead," Mr Annan said before meeting Ms Clinton in Washington. "Is the problem the plan or the implementation? If it's implementation, how do we get action on that? And if it is the plan, what other options do we have?" Earlier yesterday a deputy to Ms Clinton was in Moscow trying to persuade the Russian government to agree to sanctions on Damascus for non-implementation of the Annan plan.

After being repelled on Thursday by gunfire, some members of the 300-strong UN monitoring mission reached Qubair safely last night, accompanied by reporters from Sky and the BBC. No human bodies remained but that lives had been taken in the hamlet was not in doubt to those on the ground.

"It is not hard to verify; as soon as you walk into the first house you are hit by the stench of burnt flesh," said Paul Danahar, a BBC reporter. "You can see that a terrible crime has taken place, everything has been burnt, houses have been gutted, there is an RPG [that has] blown a hole at the side of the house."

Mr Danahar spoke of human brains on the floor of a home and pools of congealed blood. He also saw what looked like the tracks of heavy tanks, suggesting the recent presence of government tanks or armoured personnel carriers. "Attempts to cover up the details of the atrocity are calculated & clear," Mr Danahar said later via his Twitter account.

Mr Annan this week warned that the situation in Syria would "spiral out of control" unless firm action is taken by the international committee. He has appealed for a new UN resolution to threaten sanctions on the Syrian regime for failing to honour its promise to implement his plan. Russia, however, has again indicated its reluctance. What remains is a hotchpotch of often competing ideas to save or bolster the peace plan. Russia is not ready for anything that implies ending Mr Assad's rule and the US is suspicious because Mr Annan would like Iran to participate.

* Alex Thompson the Channel 4 News correspondent who was in Syria earlier this week, yesterday accused rebel fighters of trying to get him killed. "I'm quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus," he said after being deliberately sent into stretch of road targeted by snipers.

Tough talk: How UN  members view the crisis

Kofi Annan, UN envoy to Syria

With his ceasefire agreement in tatters, Mr Annan proposes the creation of a "contact group" of countries that could influence both sides in the conflict to end violence, including Iran.

Mark Lyall Grant, British UN ambassador

In the wake of a fresh massacre, Mr Lyall Grant is pushing for punitive measures in the form of sanctions if the Syrian regime fails to halt violence. This week he called for a resolution "with clear timelines".

Li Baodong, China's UN ambassador

Mr Baodong claims that Syria is at a "crossroads", and has called on both sides in the conflict to end violence. He also says the international community must back Mr Annan's peace plan.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

Mr Ban has expressed growing frustration with the violence in Syria, and issued his strongest rebuke yet on Thursday, saying the Assad regime had "lost its fundamental humanity".

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN ambassador

Russia opposes armed intervention and wants to see Annan's peace plan bolstered. Mr Churkin has also chastised Gulf countries for arming rebels, while voicing concern over the massacre in Hama.

Susan Rice, America's UN ambassador

Ms Rice has balked at the suggestion that Iran be involved in any talks aimed at ending violence in Syria. Responding to Mr Annan's proposal, she said: "Iran is part of the problem in Syria."

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