Monitors visiting the scene of a massacre in Syria say they have seen evidence of a "horrific crime." However, the UN said the details of who was behind the attack on a small settlement remained unclear.
International observers who visited the site of a reported massacre in a Syrian village on Friday said they had seen signs that heavily equipped forces had been there, with traces of slaughter in some homes, the United Nations said.
Monitors issued a statement on their visit to Mazraat al-Qubair, where opposition activists claim at least 78 people were killed on Wednesday.
"Mazraat al-Qubair was empty of its own residents and thus the observers were not able to talk to anyone who witnessed Wednesday's attack," the statement said.
The observers said they had seen armored vehicle tracks around the village in central Homs province, and that some homes appeared to have been damaged by artillery fire.
"Inside some of the houses, blood was visible across the walls and floors," the statement said. "Fire was still burning outside houses and there was a strong stench of burnt flesh."
"The circumstances surrounding this attack are still unclear," it added. "The names, details and number of those killed are still not confirmed. The observers are still working to ascertain the facts."
Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the UN observers, said accounts of the mass killing were "conflicting."
The UN said that the alleged death toll had not been confirmed, said Ghosheh. "We can say that there was definitely a horrific crime that was committed. The scale is still not clear to me."
The government has denied responsibility for the alleged massacre. A statement posted on Syria's state news agency, SANA, blamed the "appalling crime" on "an armed terrorist group."
The carnage continues
Russian push for Iran role
Meanwhile, Russia continued to put forward its idea of including Iran in a conference on Syria on Saturday, insisting that leaving Tehran out of discussions would be "thoughtless".
"We want this event to be effective," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"To say that Iran doesn't have a place because it is already to blame for everything and it's part of the problem and not part of the solution, this is thoughtless, to say the least, from the point of view of serious diplomacy."
The comments were in response to the United States' continued opposition to such a proposition. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has referred to Iran as a "spoiler" and "part of the problem in Syria."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met international envoy Kofi Annan in Washington late on Friday to discuss his faltering plan to end 15 months of bloodshed in the country.
Western nations have said they hold Assad responsible for the violent crackdown, in which the UN claims some 10,000 people have been killed. Opposition activists put the number at some 13,000.
rc,sb/sej (AP, AFP, Reuters)