Syria: UN says military operation in Tremseh targeted activists

July 16th, 2012 - 11:29 pm ICT by BNO News  

TREMSEH, SYRIA (BNO NEWS) — A military operation carried out in the Syrian village of Tremseh on Thursday targeted mainly army defectors and activists, according to United Nations (UN) observers who visited the scene this weekend. The exact number of casualties remains unclear.

The UN observers first entered Tremseh, located in the province of Hama, on Saturday and continued their investigation in Sunday. Investigators observed over 50 houses that were burned or destroyed, and pools of blood and brain matter was observed in a number of other homes. Bullet cases were also found.

Sausan Ghosheh, a spokeswoman for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), said the military operation began at 5 a.m. local time on Thursday. “It began with the shelling of the village followed by ground operations,” she said, based on the accounts of 27 local villagers who were interviewed by the UN observers.

Those interviewed said the government soldiers conducted house to house searches and asked men for their ID cards. “They (the villagers) alleged that after checking their identification, numerous were killed. Other men were taken out of the village,” Ghosheh said. “On the basis of some of the destruction observed in the town and the witness accounts, the attack appears targeted at army defectors and activists.”

UN observers, which are comprised of specialized civilian and military experts, also confirmed the use of direct and indirect weapons, including artillery, mortars and small arms. They confirmed Free Syrian Army leader Saleh al-Subaai, a doctor and his children were killed when a mortar shell hit their home.

But the exact number of casualties remains unclear, with the Syrian government putting the death toll as low as 39 and the opposition putting the number as high as 280 with hundreds more missing. Tremseh previously had a population of up to 11,000 people, but it is now mostly deserted after Thursday’s operation.

Also on Sunday, Syrian Foreign Affairs spokesman Jihad Makdissi stressed that the military operation in Tremseh was not a massacre but a clash between government forces and armed groups. He said damage was caused to only five buildings where gunmen were hiding and that government forces did not use heavy weapons.

“What really happened was not an army attack on civilians but a military operation and armed clashes by the army and law enforcement forces that are responsible, according to the constitution, for the protection of citizens and between well-armed terrorist groups that believe in abduction, terrorism, killing and bombing and don’t believe in the political solution,” Makdissi said.

The spokesman reiterated no massacre took place in Tremseh and pointed out that UN observers had been allowed to access the site. “Had it been a massacre, or had it not been a matter of defending the citizens and confronting armed groups that don’t believe in the political solution, we wouldn’t have allowed the mission to go there,” he added.

Makdissi said 37 gunmen and two civilians were killed during Thursday’s operation, during which government forces allegedly seized hundreds of weapons, explosives, and thousands of bullets. “Whoever takes up arms against the state of those who do not believe in the political solution will be in confrontation with the army, while Syria’s doors are open to those who believe in the political solution and dialogue without any prohibitions. All that we want is faith in this homeland,” he said.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “outraged” by reports claiming mass killings in Tremseh. “The Syrian Government must halt this bloodshed and recognize that armed confrontation is the wrong course and must end now,” he said in a statement. “I also urge the armed opposition to abide by its commitments under the six-point plan.”

Earlier this month, UN-Arab League Special Envoy for the Syrian crisis, Kofi Annan, said he reached an agreement with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on an approach to bring an end to the violence. Assad also reassured his government’s commitment to the six-point peace plan, which calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President al-Assad began nearly 1.5 year ago. The opposition believes the number of deaths has already surpassed 17,000.

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