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Syria opposition, regime trade blame over mass killings

Syrians wait in line for gas in Idlib in western Syria. Vilence across the country has caused shortages in gas. AFP

DAMASCUS: Syria's regime and opposition on Friday accused each other of killing more than 150 people in Treimsa village, with the latest carnage in the 16-month uprising triggering calls for tougher U.N. action.

France joined the opposition Syrian National Council in urging the U.N. Security Council to pass a binding resolution against Damascus, which pointed the finger at the "bloodthirsty media" and "terrorists" seeking intervention.

Security Council envoys had earlier failed to make any headway in talks on rival Russian and Western draft resolutions on Syria, as Moscow spurned calls for sanctions against President Bashar Assad's regime.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime troops with tanks and helicopter gunships were backed by militias armed with guns and knives as more than 150 people were slain in Treimsa on Thursday.

Rebel leader Abu Mohamad, chief of a group based north of Treimsa, said more than 200 people were slaughtered.

"Several dozen rebel fighters were among those killed," said the Observatory, adding only around 40 of the dead had been identified, while 30 were burned and 18 were "summarily executed."

"Some are estimating higher numbers, but even at around 150, especially considering how small the town is, this might be the biggest massacre committed in Syria since the start of the revolution," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

"The army must have got the green light to commit a massacre of this scale, and I bear President Bashar Assad responsible for the killing."

An activist at the anti-regime Sham News Network said most of the dead were rebels and that the bloodbath happened when pro-regime forces retaliated following a Free Syrian Army attack on an army convoy.

"At this stage, though we do not yet have the final count, the number of civilians killed by shelling is not more than seven," the activist who identified himself as Jaafar told AFP. "The rest were members of the (rebel) Free Syrian Army."

"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."

If confirmed, the killing at Treimsa in the central province of Hama would rival the massacre at Houla on May 25, when a pro-Assad militia and government forces were accused of killing at least 108 people.

The Syrian National Council urged the Security Council to pass a binding resolution against Assad's regime.

"To stop this bloody madness which threatens the entity of Syria, as well as peace and the security in the region and in the world, requires an urgent and sharp resolution of the Security Council under Chapter VII (of the UN Charter) which protects the Syrian people," it said.

Chapter VII allows for punitive measures against regimes considered a threat to the peace, including economic sanctions and military intervention.

-- 'Stiffened resolve' --

France called for "stiffened resolve... with the threat of sanctions from the Security Council."

"This tragedy shows how much the first step towards a cessation of violence must be taken by the Syrian government," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told journalists in Paris.

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood said UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan as well as Assad allies Iran and Russia must through their inaction shoulder the blame for Treisma.

The government said the massacre was staged in a bid to trigger UN-backed intervention.

"The bloodthirsty media in collaboration with gangs of armed terrorists massacred residents of Treimsa village ... to sway public opinion against Syria and its people and provoke international intervention on the eve of a U.N. Security Council meeting," state-run news agency SANA said.

Rebel leader Abu Mohamad said regime forces bombarded Treimsa for 10 hours from about 11:00 am (0800 GMT) on Thursday, although an activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi said it started at about 6:00 am.

"That was followed by clashes with the Free Syrian Army," said Abu Ghazi.

"The number of martyrs is very high partly because the army shelled a mosque where scores of people had taken shelter, to treat the wounded and hide from the bombs."

The village, which had a population of 7,000, he said, "is empty now. Everyone is dead or has run away."

Treimsa is near Al-Kubeir, where at least 55 people were killed on July 6, according to the Observatory. Like Al-Kubeir, Treimsa is a majority Sunni village situated near Alawite ones.

Assad belongs to the Alawite community -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam -- although the vast majority of Syrians are Sunni.

In New York, the Security Council wrangled over the future of the troubled UN observer mission to Syria after Russia and the West proposed rival resolutions on renewing its mandate, which expires on July 20.

Mission chief Major General Robert Mood said his team was ready to go to Treisma if a ceasefire is in place.

"The facts that we already have, related to the situation in the Hama province and the village Treimsa, are already reported to New York," Mood said in Damascus, adding a team of monitors was present "five or six kilometres" (three to 3.7 miles) away from the village.

Annan will on Monday meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the crisis and "the chances of an internal Syrian solution," ITAR-TASS news agency said, in a report confirmed by the peace envoy's office in Geneva.

Meanwhile, Anatolia news agency said two Syrian brigadier generals and a score of other soldiers crossed into Turkey, bringing the total number of high-ranking defectors to 17.

 

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