WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) -- The United States expressed fears on Monday that the Syrian government may be organizing a massacre in an opposition stronghold in the country's west. Officials at the United Nations (UN) have demanded access to the town.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it is alarmed by information it received through the UN that the Syrian regime may be planning a new massacre against civilians. "The regime may be organizing another massacre, this time in the village of Al-Haffah in Latakia province," she said.
UN military observers have been trying to access Al-Haffah but have been blocked by Syrian government forces, in violation with an earlier agreement. UN-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan expressed concern about reports of the use of mortars, helicopters and tanks in Al-Haffah and demanded immediate access to the town.
"He is particularly worried about the recent shelling in Homs as well as reports of the use of mortar, helicopters and tanks in the town of Al-Haffah. There are indications that a large number of civilians are trapped in these towns," said Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Annan. "[He] demands that entry of the UN military observers be allowed to the town of Al-Haffah immediately."
The U.S. warning came hours after Syrian state-run media claimed "armed terrorist groups" are preparing to carry out a massacre against civilians in Al-Haffah and the nearby village Tfil. State-run television played a recording it said was a telephone conversation between two "terrorists" planning the massacre.
"Slaughter the hostages and the prisoners in Tfil and film them on the internet as if there were a massacre which the regime has committed and add some fabrication to it," a person said in the audio recording. "Line them up, film them and take off their clothes and say 'a massacre happened' and send the images to the media because there is an international move after two days."
Also on Monday, state-run media reported that 'armed terrorist groups' had attacked public and private institutions in the Al-Haffah area, killing an unknown number of people. The reports, which could not be independently verified, claimed the town's hospital was among the buildings which were burnt down.
The Syrian opposition and the international community has accused troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out two recent massacres, killing 108 people in the region of Houla, in Homs province, and 78 people in the village of Qubair in Hama province. The Syrian government rejected the claim, accusing the opposition which it refers to as terrorists.
The crisis in Syria began in March 2011 as a pro-democracy protest movement, similar to those across the Middle East and North Africa. The Syrian government violently cracked down on the protests, setting off an armed conflict between pro-Assad forces and anti-government forces. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in the violence.
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