Middle East

Syria: Tremseh killings targeted rebels, UN says

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Media captionUN observers arrived in Tremseh as villagers claimed military forces had carried out indiscriminate attacks

The government attack on the Syrian village of Tremseh mainly targeted the homes of rebels and activists, the UN mission in the country has said.

It said heavy weaponry including artillery and mortars was used.

A UN spokeswoman issued a statement after inspectors visited the scene of Thursday's attack, in which at least 200 people are said to have died.

The BBC's Jim Muir says the initial findings seem to contradict earlier reports of a massacre of civilians.

Instead, the inspectors' preliminary findings are more in line with the government's claims that it was attacking what it calls "nests of terrorists" or rebel hideouts, our correspondent says.

'Blood spatters'

What appears to be certain is that government forces launched a major attack on Tremseh using heavy weapons, tanks and helicopters.

The use of such weapons is in violation of a commitment given to UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan by the Syrian authorities.

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

"The attack on Tremseh appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists.

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

Observers saw damaged houses and a burned school in the village, 25km north-west of the city of Hama.

They said that the number of casualties was unclear and added that they intend to return to the village on Sunday.

The attack of Tremseh has sparked international condemnation, but Syria's government has insisted this was a military operation against rebels.

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 the hideouts had been destroyed, with a large number of rebel fighters - or "terrorists" as the government calls them - being killed, and dozens captured.

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

'Shocked and appalled'

Kofi Annan, special envoy to Syria, was among those who reacted angrily to the killings, saying he was "shocked and appalled".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the attack cast "serious doubt" on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to the peace plan, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested the Syrian army had "deliberately murdered civilians" in Tremseh.

Meanwhile, violence has continued elsewhere across Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that hundreds of soldiers backed by helicopter gunships were reported to be attacking Khirbet Ghazaleh, in the province of Deraa.

The Observatory reported that 28 people were killed across the country on Saturday, among them a pregnant woman. On Friday, 118 people were killed, the group said.

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

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

The UN Security Council is currently debating the future of the UN observer mission in Syria, which is set to come to an end on 20 July.

Western nations want to increase the threat of sanctions in the new Security Council resolution on the future of the mission.

China and Russia remain opposed to any moves to threaten further sanctions.

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