After earlier obstructions, UN observers on Friday reached the Syrian village of Mazraat al-Qubeir, where a massacre of civilians reportedly took place on Wednesday.
"We found the village empty of its local inhabitants, bmp [tank] tracks on the road, a house damaged from shelling, with a wide range of calibre types and grenades," said the spokesperson for the UN Supervision in Syria (UNSMIS), Sausan Ghosheh. We found burned homes, and at least one burnt with bodies inside - there was a heavy stench of burned flesh."
According to media reports, Syrian activists claim that Government troops and militiamen massacred at least 78 villagers in Mazraat al-Qubeir, located near the city of Hama, on Wednesday. The Syrian Government has said the accusations are false.
A group of 25 UNSMIS observers reached the village mid-afternoon on Friday, after having been obstructed in earlier attempts.
While trying to reach the location on Thursday, UNSMIS observers were held up at Syrian Army checkpoints, and in some cases turned back; they were also stopped by civilians in the area, and received information from residents of the area that their safety was at risk if they entered the village. In addition, they were shot at with small arms.
"Residents from neighbouring villages came to speak to us, but none of them were witness to the killings on Wednesday," Ghosheh said. "The circumstances surrounding this incident are yet not clear and we have not yet been able to verify the numbers."
The spokesperson added that a team of experts from UNSMIS is in the village trying to ascertain the facts of what occurred.
The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 15 months ago.
The UN Security Council established UNSMIS in April to monitor the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitor and support the full implementation of a peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan.
The plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.