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14/07/2012 | Syria crisis: Conflicting reports of Tremseh killings

BBC

There are conflicting reports from Syria about the deaths of dozens of people in Tremseh, a village in Hama province.

 

Opposition activists and witnesses say army tanks bombarded the village on Thursday for several hours before pro-government militiamen swept in, shooting and stabbing victims at close range. They report that as many as 220 people were killed, including a number of rebel fighters.

The Syrian government says at least 50 people were killed in Tremseh, but it blames "armed terrorist groups".

If the opposition's death toll and accounts are confirmed it would be one of the worst massacres since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

'Bodies burned'

Tremseh is a predominantly Sunni Muslim farming village about 35km (20 miles) north-west of the city of Hama, surrounded by villages dominated by Alawites, the Shia heterodox sect to which President Assad belongs.

According to initial accounts from activists and witnesses, a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles, containing uniformed soldiers and members of a pro-government militia - known as "shabiha" - as well as tanks and artillery, surrounded Tremseh at about 06:00 (03:00 GMT) on Thursday, searching for members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

A resident of the nearby Kfar Hod, Abu Mohammed, told the New York Times that the soldiers and tanks were deployed to the east of the village, from where they opened fire with heavy weapons and machine-guns.

Shabiha were deployed along the western edge of Tremseh and "fired at anyone or any car that tried to leave the village", he added. The River Orontes provided a natural barrier to the south.

An account published on Thursday afternoon said the electricity and telephone lines were also cut, causing people to gather in the streets "in a state of fear and panic", "unable to flee because of the blockade".

It appears that there were members of the Free Syrian Army in the village, but it is not clear how many and to what extent they resisted.

However, activists and witnesses all said that after the bombardment subsided in the afternoon, shabiha swept into the village and killed people one by one. Many were shot or stabbed, and dozens of bodies were burned or dumped in the streets, they added.

The UN Stabilisation Mission in Syria (Unsmis) confirmed there had been "continuous fighting" on Thursday in the Tremseh area, which had "involved mechanised units, indirect fire, as well as helicopters".

'Ethnic cleansing'

Activists later published a video online purportedly showing the blood-stained bodies of at least 15 young men laid out on blankets on a concrete floor, their faces or shirts drenched in blood. Some had wounds in their heads and chests. Most of the men were wearing jeans and t-shirts, though one had a camouflage jacket.

Another video showed an alleged survivor of the massacre. The narrator accused the government of "ethnic cleansing" and said the killings in Tremseh were "unlike any massacre that has previously occurred in Syria".

Abu Mohammed said he had visited Tremseh after the massacre and seen bodies in fields, on streets and in homes. He said about 50 bodies had been pulled out of the River Orontes, and that most of the victims were farmers.

Musab al-Hamadi, an activist based in Hama, told the BBC that the names of 100 victims had been documented before they were buried on Friday. There were far more bodies which had not yet been recovered from nearby fields or the river, he added.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition activist network, reported that more than 220 people had been killed in Tremseh.

"A heinous criminal act was added to the regime's track record of horrors which do not discriminate between man, woman, or child," it said.

"The same methodology, tools and means as previous massacres was used: forces of the regime's army shelled the town, shabiha then stormed the town and killed and slaughtered individuals and then burned the wounded and the bodies of the martyrs."

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had reports that more than 150 people had been killed, though it had collected only 40 names of the victims. Dozens of the dead were rebel fighters and about 30 bodies were burned, it added.

Jaafar, an activist with the opposition Sham News Network (SNN), also told the AFP news agency most of those killed had been FSA fighters.

"At this stage, though we do not yet have the final count, the number of civilians killed by shelling is not more than seven," he said.

'Terrorists captured'

The Syrian government also reported a mass killing in the village.

The state news agency, Sana, said "tens of terrorists" had overrun Tremseh, killing or wounding dozens of civilians and ransacking or destroying scores of houses.

It cited a witness, Abu Arif al-Khalid, who said the assailants had "opened fire on [Tremseh's] inhabitants and houses at random, killing more than 50 people, and blowing up houses".

"A woman and her child were killed by the terrorists before the eyes of all the people there, added Abu Arif al-Khalid," Sana reported.

Security forces only arrived at the village after receiving calls from residents, officials said.

Once there, the troops clashed with the attackers, "inflicting huge losses upon them, capturing scores of them, confiscating their weapons, among which were Israeli-made machine-guns", the Sana report added.

The agency published no photos or videos to support the accounts.

BBC (Reino Unido)

 


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