Damascus, July 14, 2012
Damascus, July 14, 2012
U.N. 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 force operation, the U.N. mission said in an assessment obtained by Reuters on Friday.
“The situation in Hama province continues to be highly volatile and unpredictable,” said the “flash report” from the U.N. observer mission on Thursday’s incident.
“SAAF forces continue to target populated urban areas north of Hama City in a large scale,” the report said, referring to the Syrian Arab Air Force.
Opposition sources said about 220 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the village of Tremsa when it was attacked by helicopter gunships and tanks then stormed by militiamen who slaughtered some families on Thursday.
“The operation in Tremseh is assessed as an extension of the SAAF operation in Khan Sheikhoun to Souran over the recent number of days,” said the two-page report by the U.N. mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS.
Massacre’s death toll figure varies
There were no independent accounts of the number of dead or how they were killed. If scores of civilians were killed, it could make it the worst atrocity in 16 months of fighting between rebels and the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
Late Friday, local activists backed away from early reports that more than 200 people were killed. One said he had confirmed 74, but had only 20 names. Another provided a list of 103 names.
For its part, the Syrian government said more than 50 people were killed when Syrian forces clashed with “armed gangs” that were terrorizing village residents. The regime refers to its opponents as terrorists and gangsters.
Much remains unclear about what happened in Tremsa, an isolated hamlet in Hama province, including why it was targeted and whether all of the dead were civilians. One activist group said dozens of victims were rebel fighters and the incident happened after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) attacked an army convoy.
Tremsa, which had a population of 7,000, is near al-Kubeir, where at least 55 people were killed on July 6, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Like Kubeir, Tremsa is a majority Sunni village situated near Alawite hamlets.
Tremsa “is empty now. Everyone is dead or has run away,” an activist calling himself Abu Ghazi said.
Stopped by SAAF commanders
According to the UNSMIS report, a patrol of unarmed U.N. military observers could get within only about 4 miles (6 km) of Tremsa on Thursday before being stopped by SAAF commanders because of “military operations.”
The patrol observed the situation from a few different locations around Tremsa for about eight hours during which time it heard more than 100 explosions, sporadic small arms and heavy machinegun fire and saw white and black smoke plumes.
The U.N. 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 Tremsa,” the report said.
“Attempts to contact the local military commander during this period were unsuccessful,” it said. “Patrols attempted to access Tremsa via alternate routes without success.”
The report said the U.N. mission made further attempts to get a local ceasefire to allow the evacuation of civilians from Tremsa by contacting the Hama Governorate chief of police and the SAAF senior national liaison officer, but did not succeed.
The U.N. 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 to Syria in April to monitor a failed truce as part of international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan. The U.N. Security Council must decide the future of the mission before July 20, when its initial 90-day mandate expires.
A Security Council diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said a statement had been circulated among members for approval on Friday that condemned the Tremsa attack and noted that use of heavy weapons by Syrian forces violated council resolutions.
But the diplomat said Russia’s U.N. mission asked to consult with Moscow, so if a statement is eventually agreed to by all Security Council members it would not be released until Monday.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has recommended shifting the emphasis of the work of UNSMIS from military observers to civilian staff focusing on a political solution and issues like human rights.
UNSMIS suspended most of its monitoring activity on June 16 due to increased risk from rising violence.
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. The others would return to their home countries, but be ready to redeploy again at short notice.
Source: Al Arabiya with agencies