United Nations observers, having finally entered al-Haffeh today, reported that the Syrian town appeared deserted, with many buildings burned down and the “strong stench of dead bodies” in the air.
Staff from the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) had been impeded from reaching the town in recent days by the ongoing violence in the area. When they reached the site today, most government institutions were set on fire, stores were looted and burned and residential homes appeared rummaged.
“A strong stench of dead bodies was in the air and there appeared to be pockets in the town where fighting is still ongoing,” the spokesperson for UNSMIS, Sausan Ghosheh, said. “The number of casualties is still unclear.”
In addition, the observers found that the Baath Party headquarters in the town was shelled and appeared to be the site of heavy fighting. Remnants of heavy weapons and a range of different calibre arms were found in the town. Cars, both civilian and security, were also set on fire and damaged.
“UNSMIS is deeply concerned about the escalating level of violence in Syria and calls on all parties to put down their weapons and choose the path of non-violence for the welfare of the Syrian people who have suffered enough,” stated Ms. Ghosheh.
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 16 months ago.
UNSMIS observers have been charged with monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitoring and supporting the full implementation of a six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the UN 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.