UN observers in Syria described an attack on a village in the Hama region in
which about 220 people were reported killed as part of a continuing Syrian air
Reuters obtained the UN mission assessment on
Opposition sources said about 220 people, mostly civilians, were
killed in Tremseh when helicopter gunships and tanks attacked on Thursday, after
which militiamen stormed the village and slaughtered families.
operation in Tremseh is assessed as an extension of the SAAF [Syrian Arab Air
Force]... operation in Khan Sheikhoun to Souran over the recent number of days,”
said the two-page report by the UN mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS.
observers entered the central Syrian village of Tremseh on Saturday, two days
after the operation, prompting international outrage.
allegations of a massacre and said the attack on Thursday was a successful military
operation that killed a large number of “terrorists” but no
The bloodshed in the country continued on Saturday, when the
British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 33 people were killed,
several by an army bombardment in Homs province.
Accounts from opposition
activists cited a death toll in Tremseh ranging from over 100 to more than twice
that – one of the bloodiest incidents in the 17-month uprising that Western
powers say has left 17,000 dead.
“We were surrounded from four sides...
with tanks and armored vehicles, and the helicopters were hovering above,” an
unidentified man said on video footage purportedly filmed in Tremseh and posted
on the Internet on Saturday.
“They burned people in front of our eyes,
they held the men like this and stabbed them,” he said, pointing to his chest
and then to an artery in his throat. He said his cousin’s throat was slit. “They
took out people’s eyes.”
One group said rebel fighters rushed to
reinforce the village after it came under attack by infantry, artillery and
aircraft, leading to a battle that lasted seven hours.
In a pattern seen
elsewhere in recent months, rebels accused local irregular militiamen known as
shabbiha, from President Bashar Assad’s Alawite minority, of swooping on the
battered village, home mostly to Sunnis, and of killing their neighbors in a
sectarian attack some called ethnic cleansing.
A Tremseh activist named
Ahmed told Reuters there were 60 bodies at the mosque, of whom 20 were
identified: “There are more bodies in the fields, bodies in the rivers and in
One piece of film to appear on the Internet showed the corpses
of 15 young men with faces or shirts drenched in blood.
T-shirts and jeans. There were no women or children.
Other videos showed
rows of bodies wrapped in blankets, sheets and makeshift shrouds, some leaking
blood. One man pulled aside a blanket to display a burned corpse.
placed wrapped bodies in a breeze-block trench for burial.
In a mosque
packed with grieving women and distraught men, bodies were collected, identified
and prepared. Children stepped gingerly among the corpses covering the
Via its Twitter account on Saturday, the Syrian state news agency
SANA cited an unnamed military source as saying that “armed forces” had carried
out a “qualitative operation” in Tremseh, after “tens of terrorists” had overrun
the village, “killing or wounding tens of Syrian citizens.”
website appeared to be down, however, and state news agency tweeted that the
site had been “attacked by foreign sides which try to prevent the Syrian
national media from conveying the truth of events.”
There were no
independent accounts of the number of dead or how they were
According to the UNSMIS report, a patrol of unarmed UN military
observers could get within only about 6 km. of Tremseh on Thursday before being
stopped by SAAF commanders because of “military operations.” The patrol observed
the situation from a few locations around Tremseh for about eight hours, during
which time it heard more than 100 explosions, sporadic small arms and heavy
machine gun fire and saw white and black smoke plumes.
The UN observers
saw one Mi-8 and two Mi-24 helicopters and witnessed one of the Mi-24
helicopters firing air-to-ground rockets.
“The patrol received several
calls from local contacts claiming 50 people had been killed and 150 wounded
within Tremseh,” the report said.
“Attempts to contact the local military
commander during this period were unsuccessful,” it said.
attempted to access Tremseh via alternate routes without success.”
report said the UN mission made further attempts to put in place a local
cease-fire to allow the evacuation of civilians from Tremseh, by contacting the
Hama Governorate chief of police and the SAAF senior national liaison officer,
but did not succeed.
The UN observers said they also saw several civilian
trucks and cars moving through the area carrying armed men wearing a mix of
military and civilian clothing and 10 ambulances, one of which was transporting
an armed person.
UNSMIS was deployed in April to monitor a failed truce
as part of international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan. The UN Security Council
must decide the future of the mission before July 20, when its initial 90- day
mandate expires. It is expected to vote this week on extending the mandate of UN
observers in Syria, whose original mission was to monitor a cease-fire that
never took hold.
The attacks in Tremseh have drawn international
While Washington laid the blame for the killings at Assad’s
door, China said it strongly condemned “behavior which harms innocent civilians”
but did not say who it believed carried out the attack.
“We again urge
all relevant sides in Syria to take practical steps to immediately stop all
violence,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a short
Secretary-General Ban Kimoon condemned what a UN
reconnaissance mission on Friday said was “indiscriminate” bombardment of the
central Hama province village, including rocket-firing helicopters. He
questioned Assad’s commitment to a UN-sponsored peace plan for Syria.
condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the indiscriminate use of heavy
artillery and shelling of populated areas, including by firing from
helicopters,” Ban said.
On Friday, Ban said reports of the massacre by
Syrian government forces cast “serious doubts” on Assad’s commitment to a
UNbacked peace plan.
In a letter to the Security Council on Friday, Annan
said the massacre in Tremseh showed that UN resolutions on Syria were being
ignored, making it imperative to signal that there would be
Russia has proposed extending the UN mission for 90 days,
but Britain, the US, France and Germany have countered with a draft resolution
that threatens Syria with sanctions.
The Western-backed resolution would
extend the force for 45 days and place Annan’s peace plan under Chapter 7 of the
Chapter 7 allows the council to authorize actions ranging
from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention. US officials
have said they are talking about sanctions on Syria, not military
According to the draft resolution, Syria would face
sanctions if it does not stop using heavy weapons and withdraw its troops from
towns and cities within 10 days of the adoption of the
Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Alexander Pankin said on
Thursday that Moscow was “definitely against” Chapter 7.
recommended shifting the emphasis of the work of UNSMIS from military observers
to civilian staff focusing on a political solution and issues like human
While the mandate for 300 unarmed military observers is likely to
be unchanged, diplomats said they have been told that only half the number would
be required for the suggested shift in focus of the mission.
would return to their home countries, but be ready to redeploy again at short