ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. And we're starting the hour in Syria, where the bloodshed continues. And U.N. monitors have now reached the site of the latest horrors. The capital, Damascus, shook today with some of the heaviest fighting yet between government forces and army defectors. And to the north, U.N. monitors entered a village to investigate an alleged massacre. Activists say as many as 78 civilians, including women and children, were killed there on Wednesday. And yesterday, Syrian troops turned the U.N. mission away.
Today, monitors, in their blue helmets, entered the village of Mazraat al-Qubair. NPR's Deborah Amos followed them in and then returned to Damascus. She joins us now. Deborah, to begin, what did you and the U.N. monitors see as you entered this village?
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Audie, this village is eerily quiet and in ruins. Buildings are burned, marked with bullet holes. In one house, there was a carpet soaked in blood, in another, there was gore still on the floor, a tablecloth filled with blood. You could see bullet holes across the walls, dead animals, dirt. Something terrible happened in this village. And the monitors were there to try to figure it out. It took us hours to get in today because the monitors don't enter a village unless they have agreement from the government and from the opposition. And that was tough on two counts. The government didn't want them in the village, and the opposition was afraid to talk to them.
CORNISH: Were there any survivors or eyewitnesses?
AMOS: There were witnesses, young men who came from some of the villages that were close by. Clearly activists, they came with their faces covered, sunglasses on. They gave no names, wouldn't give out telephone numbers, certainly not to the journalists. The monitors interviewed them. They talked about at least 78 people being killed, only seven survivors in this village. Women and children were killed in this massacre. They say it was committed by pro-government militias in the surrounding villages. It's a situation where this village had become active, anti-government, and they say it was a retaliation.
We also saw one witness who came in fatigues. He said he was a member of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel group that is fighting the government. And, you know, we still are in a situation the government says it was terrorists who committed this crime, and the activists say it was the government.
CORNISH: Can the U.N. monitors write a definitive report based on what they've found?
AMOS: Well, they say it's daunting simply based on the testimony that they got today, which was conflicting from these young men who were very nervous and very, very afraid to be speaking to the U.N. because there has been government retaliations against people who have spoken out to the U.N. They say they're going to stick with it. They - some of the human rights specialists stayed behind in the village to do some extra interviewing. These are people who had come out of Afghanistan, have experience in this kind of interviewing. It may take days. It may take weeks. They want to go to some of the villages nearby to see if they can find out more details.
CORNISH: And briefly, Deb, the scene today in Damascus.
AMOS: As we came back into town, Audie, there was smoke on the skyline, very tough checkpoints, soldiers everywhere. Fighting started in the capital on Thursday, went all the way through Friday. This is very new for Damascus. It's been in the suburbs. It has not been in neighborhoods in the heart of the city, and you could feel the tension coming back into the capital from the north.
CORNISH: NPR's Deborah Amos in Damascus. Deborah, thank you.
AMOS: Thank you.