Syria unrest: UN to resume Tremseh killings probe

Tremseh village, Syria, 14 July The UN said there were "pools of blood and blood spatters in rooms"

UN observers plan to return to the Syrian village of Tremseh to continue their investigations into an attack on Thursday that killed up to 200 people.

The observers' visit on Saturday confirmed the use of heavy weapons and that the government attack appeared to target rebel fighters.

Initial findings appeared to contradict reports of a civilian massacre.

However, the observers were unable to determine how many died, who they were or exactly who carried out the attack.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the Tremseh killings appear to differ from the situation at Houla two months ago, when UN observers were able to arrive quickly and count the bodies of what was clearly a massacre.

He says that because the observers arrived in Tremseh 48 hours after the attack, all they could conclude was that it appeared to target rebel fighters or defectors from the Syrian army.

But our correspondent says the confirmation of the use of heavy weaponry explains the angry responses from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UN and Arab League special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan.

Checkpoints

"A wide range of weapons were used, including artillery, mortars and small arms," UN spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said in a statement.

Map of Syria showing Tremseh

The use of heavy weapons is in violation of a commitment given to Mr Annan by the Syrian authorities.

The observers, in an 11-vehicle convoy, saw damaged houses and a burned school in the village, which is 25km north-west of the city of Hama and home to between 6,000 and 10,000 residents.

"There were pools of blood and blood spatters in rooms of several homes together with bullet cases," Ms Ghosheh said.

Video posted by activists shows dozens of people buried in a mass grave but this has not been verified and activist groups themselves are struggling to determine numbers of dead.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said it had the names of 103 dead, including 50 rebel fighters.

One activist, Bassel Darwish, told Associated Press: "There are still martyrs under the rubble and in the fields."

UN observers in Tremseh, 14 July The UN probe was hampered by arriving 48 hours after the attack

Residents were unable to reach fields, where many bodies were said to be scattered, because of army checkpoints, he said.

Mr Darwish said Syrian troops had entered Tremseh with the UN team on Saturday "so that no-one would talk to the observers".

Reports of casualties often cannot be independently verified, as Syria severely restricts journalists' freedom of movement.

The government says its armed forces mounted a special operation after tip-offs from local people about large numbers of armed rebels operating from hideouts in the village.

A statement from the Syrian military said a large number of rebel fighters - or "terrorists" as the government calls them - were killed and dozens captured.

Some were paraded on state TV, which also showed large quantities of arms and ammunition it said were seized.

Some 16,000 people are thought to have been killed since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad's regime began in March 2011.

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