BEIRUT (Reuters) - The smell of burnt flesh hung in the air and body parts lay scattered around the deserted Syrian hamlet of Mazraat al-Qubeir on Friday, U.N. monitors said after visiting the site where 78 people were reported massacred two days ago.
The alleged killing spree on Wednesday 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 U.N. monitors reached the farming settlement of Mazraat al-Qubeir, finding it deserted but bearing signs of deadly violence.
One house was damaged by rocket fire and bullets, U.N. spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said. Another was burnt, with bodies still inside. "You could smell dead bodies and you could also see body parts in and around the village," Ghosheh told reporters after returning to Damascus.
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 U.N. said looked like armored personnel carriers or tanks."
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.
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.