Syria troops targeted opposition fighters in Tremseh, says UN

Observer mission says government forces specifically aimed to take out fighting-age males from anti-Assad groups

Martin Chulov in Beirut

Tremseh massacre video still
A video still said to be of a funeral for victims of the assault on Tremseh. Photograph: Anonymous/AP

The Syrian military attack on Tremseh mainly targeted guerilla forces and their supporters, the United Nations has claimed hours after its observers entered the battered town.
Residents of Tremseh, a small farming community in central Syria, insist that they were all targets of a bombardment on Thursday which involved mortars artillery and helicopters. They claim that close to 150 people from the town are either dead or missing.
However, the UN monitoring mission in Syria, which sent an 11-vehicle team of observers to Tremseh, released a statement late on Saturday night, which said: “The attack on Tremseh appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists.”
Opposition sources in Hama, around 20 miles south-east of Tremseh say they have compiled a list of 103 fatalities, all of whom are males — a fact that adds weight to the view that fighting-aged males were at least partly targeted during the assault, which has drawn international condemnation.
Syria’ s government insists it was fighting a terror gang in Tremseh – some of whose members had been responsible for a massacre in June in al-Kubeir village, also a farming community in nearby Homs province. To support its claims, it offered testimonies of men it said had been ringleaders of a “gang” inside Tremseh, who had allegedly made confessions after they had been captured.
Observers who made it to Tremseh on Saturday reported scenes of destruction in the wake of the fighting, which the UN earlier said had involved between 50-100 explosions caused by artillery shells, or rockets fired from helicopters.

“There were pools of blood and blood spatters in rooms of several homes together with bullet cases,” UN spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said. “A wide range of weapons were used, including artillery, mortars and small arms.”

Earlier, the UN’s envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, said he had been shocked and appalled by the violence in Tremseh. Monitors reported many homes and a school, had been badly damaged, or destroyed. Two Tremseh residents who spoke to the Observer on Saturday denied that guerilla forces, such as the Free Syria Army, had been in Tremseh in large numbers before the fighting started.

However, one witness said FSA elements had joined the battle by mid-afternoon on Thursday, when regime forces, backed by a militia, are thought to have entered the town.

Residents in Tremseh said they fled their homes and as regime forces entered and said some of them were hunted down as they fled through nearby crop fields. “We don’t understand why they attacked us,” said a local woman, Umm Khaled. “We haven’t brought harm to the region. All we’ve done here is hold demonstrations.”

“I swear that we don’t have any terrorists, Salafists, or anyone from the outside here,” said Khaled. “People have been terrified ever since [regime forces] came to the village in January and killed 40 of us. This time they stole from our homes, they robbed jewellery from women. All of this because we support the revolution?”

A second Tremseh resident, who wanted to be known only as Mohammed, said: “The bombardment started at 5.30am and ended at 2pm. The incursion started at midday from the north of the village. Shabiha and regime military men entered the village and occupied the roofs of high buildings and shot at anything moving.

“They shot many civilians in the head and then burned the bodies. They handcuffed civilians and then shot them in the head. They burned shops and houses with families inside. After what happened, the FSA [Free Syrian Army] members tried to get inside the village to help with burying the martyrs and tending to the wounded but they couldn’t.

“The criminals took many martyrs’ bodies and wounded civilians with them and there are many missing people and burnt dead bodies with no way to identify them.”

Gunfire continued in the hinterland near Tremseh on Satuday morning, but it was not clear whether it was the result of clashes. The UN was on Sunday planning to re-enter the village and speak with eyewitnesses.

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