16 killed in Syria blast, UN observers visit site
BEIRUT UN OBSERVERS on Thursday inspected the site of a deadly explosion that flattened a block of houses in the central Syrian city of Hama a day earlier and killed at least 16 people.
The government and the opposition traded blame for the blasts. Syrian state-run media said rebel bomb-makers accidentally set off the explosives, while anti-regime activists said intense shelling by government forces caused the extensive damage.
It was impossible to independently verify the conflicting accounts because President Bashar al Assad’s regime, facing a 13-monthold uprising, has restricted access for journalists and other outside witnesses.
The spokesman for the UN special envoy Kofi Annan, Ahmad Fawzi, said observers visited the site but there was no immediate word on what they saw.
A pair of UN observers is stationed in Hama, part of an advance team of 15 that is to be expanded in the coming weeks to up to 300.
As the violence in Syria continues despite UN-led efforts to implement a ceasefire, the international community has become increasingly impatient with the Assad regime.
On Wednesday, France raised the prospect of military intervention in Syria, saying the UN should consider harsher measures if a peace plan by Annan fails.
Amateur videos said to be of Wednesday’s incident in Hama showed a large cloud of white and yellow smoke rising from a neighbourhood surrounded by green fields.
In a later video, dozens of people are searching the debris, including huge chunks of cement and broken cinderblocks. Another clip shows the bloodied body of a little girl being carried through a crowd of wailing men.
The state-run Syrian news agency SANA said rebel bomb-makers mishandling explosives set off a blast that killed at least 16 people and severely damaged at least six houses. The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists, said the destruction was caused by intense shelling from government tanks. “The area was shelled for a long period,” said spokesman Omar Idlibi, denying the blast was triggered accidentally by rebels.
A second group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the cause of the destruction was not immediately clear. The Observatory initially cited reports by local residents that they had come under attack from regime forces. However, the head of the group, Rami Abdul- Rahman, said he cannot be sure those reports are accurate, and called for an investigation by UN observers.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Wednesday that France had discussed invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can be enforced militarily, with other world powers.