U.N. Presence Fails To Prevent Syrian Bloodshed
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
I'm Robert Siegel. And first this hour, to Syria where violence continues even in the presence of U.N. monitors. In one northern Syrian town, the death toll has risen to at least 34 people after a protest yesterday turned deadly. That incident marked the first time that U.N. monitors have been attacked since they entered Syria. They've been trying to encourage the government and rebels to comply with a shaky cease fire plan. NPR's Kelly McEvers explains what happened in this one town.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: It started with a funeral. A man who was killed by Syrian security forces over the weekend was about to be buried in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The funeral was held in a part of town that claims to be free, meaning it's no longer under the control of the Syrian government. Instead, it's held by anti-government rebels who call themselves the Free Syrian Army.
Still, the government's army and security forces maintain checkpoints in other parts of town. It was these checkpoints that reportedly drew the attention of the U.N. monitors. Under the U.N. peace plan, the government's soldiers and security forces are supposed to pull out of cities and towns. Residents of Khan Sheikhoun say U.N. monitors watched the funeral, which quickly turned into a protest against the government.
Emboldened by the monitors, protesters and rebels shouted insults at government soldiers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING AND GUNFIRE)
MCEVERS: Soldiers and security forces unleashed a barrage of gunfire. This video shows a tangle of bodies falling to the ground. Then the film goes blank. Activists in Khan Sheikhoun say the man who shot the video died. At some point, the U.N. monitors go back to their trucks. Then, an explosion goes off and produces a huge cloud of white dust. The front of the lead U.N. truck is mangled by the explosion.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING AND GUNFIRE)
MCEVERS: Like so many things in Syria, there are two versions of this story. Residents say government security forces launched a grenade at the U.N. truck. The government says it was a bomb planted by what it calls terrorists. Either way, the blast and the shooting that preceded it killed dozens of people, many of them civilians.
This video uploaded to YouTube by Syrian activists shows young men with gruesome gunshot wounds being brought to a makeshift field hospital. It's important to say that none of these videos can be independently verified. Journalists are restricted from reporting in much of Syria. What we do know is that the rebels and the government soldiers clashed in Khan Sheikhoun after the explosion.
The situation was so volatile that the U.N. monitors could not leave Khan Sheikhoun. They ended up staying the night in the town. Then, today, residents say the monitors were able to negotiate a halt in the fighting and let other monitors come and pick them up. This final video shows the destroyed U.N. trucks being towed away. Residents say, thereafter, the tanks rolled back into town and started shooting again.
The U.N. mission in Syria has been called a unique one. Rather than monitoring the peace, the hope is that it can create the peace. In some parts of Syria, the mere presence of monitors has brought a lull in the violence but not this week. I think we should ask the monitors to leave, one activist in Khan Sheikhoun told us over Skype. Before they came, the town was bad, he said. Now that they've gone, Khan Skeikhoun is burning.
Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.
SIEGEL: And Lava Selo contributed to that report.
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