UN observers “blocked” from entering Syria's Al-Haffe

Pro-regime residents blocked UN observers from reaching Syria's Al-Haffe on Tuesday, as government forces shelled the town for an eighth day, sparking fears of an impending massacre there, monitors said.

"Residents of the pro-regime village of As-Sheer blocked the road and prevented the UN observer team from reaching Al-Haffe," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said people "lay down on the road blocking access to the vehicles of the observers," who then began looking for another route into to the town, in the northwestern province of Latakia.

A local activist told AFP via Skype that residents of As-Sheer, located on the road to Al-Haffe, threw stones at the UN vehicles forcing them to turn back.

"We asked the monitors to tell this to the media, but they said they did not want to," he added.

State television reported that the UN vehicles had run over three residents near Latakia who were trying to explain to the observers the suffering they were being subjected to by "armed terrorist groups."

Abdel Rahman said the army was using heavy artillery against the town and nearby villages, leaving dozens wounded, while massing reinforcements in preparation for a ground assault.

Residents told AFP helicopter gunships were strafing rebel positions in Al-Haffe and said they feared a massacre if troops enter the town, considered strategic because of its proximity to Qardaha, President Bashar al-Assad's home town.

Abdel Rahman said hundreds of rebel Free Syrian Army fighters are active in and around Al-Haffe, a town of about 30,000 people, setting the scene for a violent confrontation.

At least 52 people, including 29 civilians, have been killed in Al-Haffe in the past week, the Observatory says.

The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) said it had received reports of "a large number of civilians, including women and children trapped inside the town and are trying to mediate their evacuation."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon joined UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan in demanding that unarmed military observers from UNSMIS be allowed into Al-Haffe.

Syrian activist Sem Nassar broke down in tears as she told AFP via Skype that army tanks were parked on the edge of Al-Haffe.

"They have never come this close before," she added.

More than 14,100 people have been killed in Syria since the anti-regime revolt erupted in March 2011, according to the Observatory.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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