UN observers enter town overrun by Syrian troops

For more than a week, Syrian troops have been sweeping through villages, towns in Syria`s northern, central, southern and seaside provinces.

Updated: Jun 15, 2012, 09:25 AM IST

Beirut: Smouldering buildings, looted shops, smashed cars and a strong stench of death greeted UN observers who entered the nearly deserted Syrian town of Haffa, a day after President Bashar Assad`s forces overran it as part of a major offensive to recover rebel-controlled territories.

The observers had been trying to get into the town for a week after fears were raised that a brutal assault by regime forces was under way. They found the main hospital burned, state buildings and an office of the ruling Baath party in ruins and a corpse lying in the street.

"A strong stench of dead bodies was in the air," said Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the UN observers. She said there was still fighting in some pockets of the mountainous town in the seaside province of Latakia.

The number of casualties was unclear, Ghosheh said, and it appeared likely that, as in the past, bodies had been removed or buried before the UN mission got in.

The fighting, now mostly quelled in Haffa, was mirrored in other parts of Syria, where more than 40 civilians and opposition fighters were killed yesterday, according to activists, alongside more than a half-dozen Syrian forces.

From the day`s early hours, Syrian troops bombarded rebel-held areas with tanks, mortars and helicopters in the central town of Rastan, the Damascus suburb of Douma, the central city of Homs and the northern towns of Anadan and Hreitan, near the Turkish border, the activists said.

They said the fighting included clashes in the town of Hamuriya, near Damascus, that killed at least nine men who were allegedly butchered with knives. A video circulated by activists showed a pile of lifeless men, including one who was clearly slashed through the neck.

"Slaughter, slaughter!" a person could be heard screaming in the background. Another video showed a man lying in a garden, his arm blown off. There was no way to independently confirm the content of the videos because reporters are not allowed to work freely in Syria.

For more than a week, Syrian troops have been sweeping through villages and towns in Syria`s northern, central, southern and seaside provinces, attacking rebel-held areas and opposition strongholds in what appears to be the largest offensive since an internationally-brokered ceasefire went into effect two months ago. The regime and the opposition have both largely ignored the April 12 truce.