UN observers who were finally able to enter the Syrian town of Haffa, where there have been warnings of another massacre, say they found a ‘strong smell of death in the air’.
Fierce fighting between rebels and government forces had prevented the monitors from getting in.
They gained access on Thursday to find widespread damage. Thousands of people are said to have fled.
Rebels pulled out earlier this week saying civilians who remained risked being killed in cold blood.
The observers said shops had been looted and burned, houses ransacked, and fighting was still going on in some areas.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights accused the UN mission of only acting once government forces had taken a town.
In Damascus, Syrian authorities released nearly 200 more detainees in the presence of UN monitors on Thursday. Five hundred others were freed the day before.
Releasing them is one of the main demands of the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s beleaguered peace plan.
Diplomats say a crisis meeting of world powers is being planned to try to get the plan back on track.
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