The smell of burnt flesh hung in the air and body parts lay scattered around the deserted Syrian hamlet of Mazraat al-Qubeir today, United Nations monitors said after visiting the site where 78 people were reported massacred two days ago.
The alleged killing spree on Thursday underlined how little outside powers, divided and pursuing their own interests in the Middle East, have been able to do to stop increasing carnage in the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
A day after Syrian armed forces and villagers had turned them back, the unarmed UN monitors reached the farming settlement of Mazraat al-Qubeir, finding it deserted but bearing signs of deadly violence.
BBC reporter Paul Danahar, who accompanied the monitors, said it was clear "terrible crime" had taken place.
In one house he saw "pieces of brains lying on the floor. There was a tablecloth covered in blood and flesh and someone had tried to mop the blood up by pushing it into the corner, but seems they had given up because there was so much of it around".
Danahar's Twitter report added: "What we didn't find were any bodies of people. What we did find were tracks on the tarmac (that) the UN said looked like armoured personnel carriers or tanks."
Ghosheh said Mazraat al-Qubeir, which has a population of around 150 people, was empty today, but people from neighbouring villages arrived to give their accounts.
"The information was a little bit conflicting. We need to go back, cross-reference what we have heard, and check the names they say were killed, check the names they say are missing".
Many Syrian civilians are fleeing their homes to escape widening fighting between security forces and rebels, the Red Cross said, while the outside world seems unable to craft an alternative to envoy Kofi Annan's failing peace plan.
Activists say at least 78 people were shot, stabbed or burned alive in Mazraat al-Qubeir, a Sunni Muslim hamlet, by forces loyal to Assad, whose minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, has dominated Syria for decades.
Syrian authorities have condemned the killings in Mazraat al-Qubeir and another massacre of civilians in Houla two weeks ago, blaming them on "terrorists".
The conflict is becoming increasingly sectarian. Shabbiha militiamen from the Alawite community appear to be off the leash, targeting Sunni civilians almost regardless of their part in the uprising.
Opposition activists said those killed in Mazraat al-Qubeir had not previously been caught up in the conflict.
Some 300 U.N. observers are in Syria to monitor a truce between Assad's forces and rebels that United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan declared on April 12 but was never implemented.
Now reduced to observing the violence, they have already verified the massacre in Houla, a town where 108 men, women and children were slain on May 25. The UN peacekeeping chief said Syrian troops and pro-Assad militia were probably responsible.
As more and more civilians flee their homes to escape fighting, sick or wounded people are finding it hard to reach medical services or buy food, said a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva.
Fierce gunfights between security forces and rebels broke out on today on the streets of the Syrian capital Damascus, residents and activists said, an increasingly common occurrence in a city formerly considered a bastion of presidential control.
"The gunfire is so loud I think some bullets could have hit the house. I'm afraid to go out to see what is happening," one resident said. Activists said rebels attacked security barracks and shabbiha gunmen had been called in to help confront them.
There was no overall casualty figure from the clashes but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three people were killed in the capital's Qaboun district. It also reported a large explosion in eastern Damascus.
The state news agency said "terrorists" caused a fire in
Qaboun's electricity station, which serves the Damascus region,
knocking out four transformers and cutting power to some