19 Jan 2013

BBC team finds evidence of Syrian massacre

8:30 pm on 19 January 2013

The BBC has found evidence to support reports from Syria of a massacre in which at least 100 people were killed and burned in their homes.

A team visited the village of Haswiya, on the edge of the central city of Homs, and saw charred bodies still lying inside one of the houses.

Reports of a massacre at Haswiya emerged on Friday from opposition and human rights activists, but could not be verified immediately and were denied by the government.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said women and children had been among 106 people killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Some of the dead were "burnt inside their homes while others were killed with knives" and other weapons, the activist group said. It added that there were reports that "whole families were executed, one of them made up of 32 members."

The BBC's Lyse Doucet has since been able to travel to Haswiya.

When she arrived, Syrian army soldiers told her that all the bodies had already been taken away, but she found the scene of a vicious murder.

"Three charred bodies lay sprawled just inside one house," she reports. "A trail of blood stained the cement. In the kitchen, where china teacups sat neatly on a shelf, more than a dozen bullet casings were scattered across a floor smeared with blood.

"In another room, two more burnt corpses were curled up next to a broken bed."

Villagers, still visibly shocked, said at least 100 people had been killed that day.

Soldiers who escorted the team to the area said hundreds of men from a militant Islamist rebel group, the al-Nusra Front, committed the killings.

One woman told the BBC the same. But out of earshot of the official Syrian minders, another woman said the army was present at the time and that some soldiers even apologised for the murders, saying others had acted without orders.