ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
After a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in Syria, government troops were supposed to pull their tanks and soldiers out of cities and towns. Rebels were supposed to lay down their arms and the killing was supposed to stop. But hundreds of people have died in recent days.
NPR's Kelly McEvers reports that in some areas, visits by U.N. observers are sparking even more violence.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Right now, there are about a dozen U.N. observers in Syria. Wearing their signature U.N.-blue berets or helmets, their goal is to see whether government troops and rebels are sticking to the cease-fire. In some places, like the flashpoint city of Homs, the mere presence of monitors does seem to be stemming the violence. But in others it's not so simple.
The trouble started earlier this week in the central Syrian city of Hama.
In videos taken by residents of Hama, you see people holding olive branches, crowding around the U.N. monitors' vans, begging for help with detained relatives and destroyed homes.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)
MCEVERS: Bashar al-Assad kills us, one man says, referring to the Syrian president. We want freedom.
After the monitors left, the protests continued. Activists say snipers posted on rooftops opened fire. This sadly is fairly common these days in Syria. To go out and protest is to risk being injured or killed. It wasn't until the next morning that things got really bad.
(SOUNDBITE OF AN EXPLOSION)
MCEVERS: Activists who filmed this video say God is great, as tank shells reduce parts of houses to rubble. While Hama has been shelled intermittently before, residents say they've never seen anything like this. Homes started crumbling, people started dying. And then, as with many stories in Syria, things got complicated.
Rebels known as the Free Syrian Army began fighting back. If the government won't keep up its end of the ceasefire, says a rebel fighter from Hama - who goes by the name Abu Mazen - then we won't either.
ABU MAZEN: (Through Translator) The ceasefire has never been respected by the government. While they are shelling Homs, they are shelling Hama, they are shelling everywhere. It's still like 50 killed every day since the observer entered the country.
MCEVERS: Abu Mazen says the fighters in Hama fought back by shooting and killing a colonel who was leading the offensive. Other reports say his driver was also killed.
The shelling intensified and snipers reportedly shot anyone who tried to leave the area. Activists say bodies had to be buried in a garden because no one could make it to the graveyard. In all, at least 30 people were killed.
One activist, who goes by the name Manhal, says while civilians were targeted in retaliation for the killing of the colonel, they were targeted before that for speaking to U.N. observers. He says he has the names of at least six people who spoke to observers and later were killed by Syrian troops.
MANHAL: They came to kill. They came to shell. They seized the area and after that they started shelling.
MCEVERS: And shooting.
The U.N. observers did go back to Hama. Many people were afraid to talk to them. Others covered their faces. They showed the monitors destroyed homes and the makeshift graveyard.
Now the U.N. has confirmed it will have two observers posted in Hama indefinitely.
Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.