‘Heavy’ Syrian Army Presence Around City Near Suspected Massacre Site

United Nations monitors who were turned back Thursday by small arms fire are trying again today to reach a village in central Syria where activists say dozens of civilians were killed this week by army forces or militia fighters loyal to President Bashar Assad.

NPR’s Deborah Amos, who is among a group of journalists following the monitors, tells our Newscast desk that as the convoy drove further into central Syria today the army presence grew heavy.

There are “lots of soldiers” along the roads leading into the city of Hama, which is near the site of the suspected massacre, Deb reported. It is a “very, very stiff military presence.”

The government of President Bashar Assad denies it was responsible for any mass killings in the area this week. But activists say there was shelling and that some women and children were executed by gunmen. The reports echo what happened on May 25 in Houla, Syria, when forces loyal to Assad killed more than 100 people.

It was quiet earlier today, Deb added, in Hama. There did not appear to be any anti-Assad protesters out in the streets. Since anti-Assad protests began in March 2011, Friday (the Muslim holy day) has frequently been the time for demonstrations. But that’s also meant that Fridays have seen some of the most brutal force used against protesters.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that “fresh fighting was reported elsewhere on Friday as the authorities sought to extend their writ in an area under stubborn rebel control. The new shelling by government forces in the central city of Homs came a day after sharp denunciations of Damascus from diplomats who have struggled vainly to find a workable, consensus solution to the crisis.”

According to The Associated Press, “Syrian troops on Friday shelled a rebel-held neighborhood in the flashpoint central city of Homs as Assad’s troops appeared to be readying to storm the area that has been out of government control for months, activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees had no immediate word on casualties from the shelling of Hom’s Khaldiyeh neighborhood. Amateur videos posted online showed a small white plane, apparently a drone, flying over Homs.”

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