New massacre in Syria amid UN Security Council talks

Hama, Syria: Free Syrian Army members, under the name of Farouq" Brigades, run with their weapons (Reuters / Stringer)
The Syrian opposition claims government forces stormed Tremseh village in the province of Hama, killing up to 200 people. One activist said the majority of those killed were rebels while seven were civilians.

“An army convoy was on its way to the region of Hama when it was attacked by the FSA,” he said. “The army staged a counter-attack with the support of [pro-regime] reinforcements from [nearby] Alawite villages. The FSA resisted for an hour before it was defeated,” said an opposition activist named Jaafar, as reported by AFP.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that “several dozen rebel fighters were among those killed."

According to the UK-based group’s information, 40 of the rebels killed have been identified. They add that 18 were “summarily executed” and that 30 corpses were burned.

The so-called Revolution Leadership Council of Hama told Reuters that the village of Tremseh had been attacked by helicopter gunships and tanks, and was later stormed by pro-government militia.

Scores of dead bodies were scattered in buildings across Tremseh, Al Arabiya quoted opposition activists as saying. More than 150 bodies were piled up in the local mosque and the local school was allegedly destroyed too. These reports could not be independently confirmed.

State television, meanwhile, has put the blame for the massacre on “terrorists” and described the massacre as a “deliberate provocation”, adding that government forces only entered the village after residents asked for their help.

Damascus says the armed opposition massacred the villagers to swing public opinion against the government ahead of the forthcoming UN Security Council meeting, and make a case for foreign intervention before the UN Security Council.

The UN Security Council started a new round of negotiations on Thursday to discuss two competing drafts of a resolution aimed at breaking the diplomatic gridlock surrounding Syria as violence continued to rack the country.

The draft resolution, introduced by Britain, suggests a mission extension, but with harsh sanctions which come under Chapter 7. The latter allows the authorization of actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.

If this draft is passed, the sanctions will take effect immediately if a ceasefire does not take hold within ten days and government forces do not withdraw heavy weapons from populated areas.

The second draft, proposed by Russia, opposes sanctions. Moscow says it will not accept the Western-proposed resolution. The UN has to agree on further actions by July 20, when the mandate for the UN monitoring mission in Syria expires.

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Timing of atrocities coincidental – again?

­The commander of the United Nations Observers Mission in Syria said that his team had confirmed there had been fighting in Tremseh.

Speaking to reporters in Damascus on Friday, General Robert Mood verified that the assault on Tremseh had been targeted, "involving mechanized units, involving indirect fire impact and involving helicopters. This is what we have seen from a distance of 5 to 6 kilometers [about 3 to 4 miles]."

The UN Syria mission team reported that they observed an “ongoing military operation” around the village, saying that they heard more than 100 explosions.

General Mood said that observers were ready to send a larger team to the village once there is a "credible cessation of violence and a local ceasefire."

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency claims to have obtained the UN mission’s ‘flash’ report , which says that the attack on the village was “an extension of the SAAF [Syrian Arab Air Force] operation in Khan Sheikhoun to Souran over the recent number of days," adding that "the situation in Hama province continues to be highly volatile and unpredictable."

Russia has harshly condemned the massacre in Tremseh and expressed its solidarity with the Syrian people, saying that “the immediate cessation of bloodshed and armed violence against the civilian population by all parties is necessary.”

In addition, Russia’s Foreign Ministry pointed to the fact that the latest atrocities “again” coincided with important discussions on Syria in the UN Security Council. It pointed out that the massacre in Houla on May 25, which claimed lives of dozens of civilians, also took place during crucial negotiations in the UNSC.  

“Without prejudging the outcome of the investigation of the crime, on the conduction of which we insist, we would like to emphasize that we have no doubt that this atrocity is of advantage to the forces that do not seek peace, but persist in trying to grow on Syrian soil the seeds of sectarian animosity and civil conflict, those for whom the grief and suffering of the Syrian people do not mean anything,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich.

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‘UN should pass a resolution’

­Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council has called for a UN Security Council emergency meeting to discuss the massacre. It is urging UN observers to head to the site and document what happened there.

International peace envoy Kofi Annan has condemned the mass killings in the Syrian village, saying he is “shocked and appalled by news coming out of the village."

"This is in violation of the government's undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and its commitment to the six-point plan," Annan said.

He also said that UN observers were ready to go to Tremseh to investigate the massacre.

Harsh comments from the international community are also coming in.

“Reports of Traymseh massacre are nightmarish – dramatically illustrate the need for binding UNSC measures on Syria,” the United States’ UN Ambassador Susan Rice wrote in her Twitter microblog.

France says the UN Security council must acts and pass a resolution backed by the “threat of sanctions from the Security Council,” said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

He said that France was assuming its responsibilities, indirectly criticizing Russia and China for being reluctant to support a resolution backed by sanctions under Chapter 7.

"This tragedy shows how much the first step towards a cessation of violence must be taken by the Syrian government," Valero said.