Details of a Battle Challenge Reports of a Syrian Massacre (NY) TIMES) By NEIL MacFARQUHAR BEIRUT, Lebanon 07/15/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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BEIRUT, Lebanon — New details emerging Saturday about what local
Syrian activists called a massacre of civilians near the central city
of Hama indicated that it was more likely an uneven clash between the
heavily armed Syrian military and local fighters bearing light
The United Nations observers still on the ground in Syria sent a team
in 11 vehicles to the village of Tremseh on Saturday to investigate
what had happened, said Sausan Ghosheh, the spokeswoman for the
monitors in Damascus, the capital.
Their initial report said the attack appeared to target “specific
groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists,” Ms.
Ghosheh said in a statement. It said a range of weapons had been
used, including artillery, mortars and small arms.
The report seemed to indicate that some people had been killed at
close range — it said there were pools of blood and blood spatters in
several houses along with bullet cases. The team also found a burned
school and damaged houses.
The number of casualties remains unclear, it said, but the United
Nations team planned to return on Sunday to continue investigating.
Before the United Nations team entered the town, a combination of
videos, televised confessions of numerous captured fighters and
reports from activists outside the area all indicated that a battle
on Thursday between the military and local fighters in Tremseh, a
village of 11,000 people about 22 miles northwest of Hama, resulted
in a slaughter of rebel forces.
The videos that have emerged so far online, the source of much of the
information on any fighting that is available outside Syria, have
shown the victims to be young men of fighting age. One showed 15
bodies. Another one, said to show a group of reinforcements being
sent to Tremseh, also showed a group of young men in civilian clothes
carrying their personal weapons.
There were also new questions about the death toll, with initial
figures from activists of more than 160 and other reports putting the
toll at more than 200. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an
opposition group based in Britain that has a network of contacts in
Syria, said that it had been able to confirm only 103 names, and 90
percent of them were young men. There were no women’s names on the
list of 103 victims obtained from activists in Homs.
An initial roster of 20 names published by the Syrian National
Council, the main umbrella opposition group in exile, was mostly a
list of men between 19 and 36, although it included the name of a 6-
year-old boy. Activists from the area contacted Saturday stuck to the
narrative that there had been a massacre in Tremseh.
In previous massacres, however, like the one in Houla in late May,
there was the immediate synchronization between the long lists of
civilian names, the gruesome videos of dead women and children, and
corroboration by United Nations observers who faulted the Syrian Army
for using tank shells and other heavy weaponry against a civilian
area. That is missing in the case of Tremseh.
After the high toll was announced from Tremseh, as was the case with
Houla and other similar episodes, Western leaders lined up to condemn
the mass killings of civilians. Col. Riad al-Assad, based in Turkey
as the ostensible leader of the loose coalition of fighters called
the Free Syrian Army, told the Arabic television network Al Jazeera
on Thursday that there had been no opposition fighters in the town.
Although what actually happened in Tremseh remains murky, the
evidence available suggested that events on Thursday more closely
followed the Syrian government account. But Syrian officials colored
that account with their usual terminology of blaming “foreign
terrorist gangs” for all violence. The government said the Syrian
Army had inflicted “heavy losses” on the “terrorists.”
The picture emerging is that there was a large group of fighters from
the town and the local area bivouacked in Tremseh. The Syrian Army
moved in early Thursday, blocking all exits and blasting away with
machine guns, tank shells and rockets fired from helicopters, laying
waste to the town.
“Whenever the Syrian Army knows there are fighters concentrated in an
area, they attack,” said the leader of the Observatory, who goes by
the pseudonym Rami Abdul-Rahman for safety reasons. “The majority of
people killed in Tremseh were either rebel fighters from the village
or from surrounding villages.”
Syrian state television paraded several captured fighters on air on
Saturday who said Tremseh had been a regional center of operations
for the past 20 days. The captives said that 200 to 300 fighters had
gathered there to plot attacks on checkpoints and other military
“We clashed for hours in Tremseh, and even the leader of the local
division was killed,” said a man identified as Mohammed Satouf, who
said his role had been to produce YouTube videos from the area. He
said the rebel fighters used mostly small and light weapons.
State television also broadcast pictures of a roomful of weapons that
it said had been captured from the town, the inventory mostly
underscoring just what a crude and simple arsenal the opposition
uses. It included 54 guns, 9 rocket-propelled grenade launchers,
5,000 cartridges, 25 satellite telephones and 24 mortars, the latter
looking as if they had been welded by hand.
The broadcast also showed the identification card of what it said was
a Turkish fighter in the group, and a captured man named Abdelsalem
Darwish said there had been a Turkish fighter and some Libyans there,
as well as money and arms from Turkey.
The official report also made the unlikely claim that government
forces had killed no civilians, but that the dead civilians found in
the town had been killed by the rebel fighters.
An initial report by United Nations observers who were unable to
enter the town on Thursday said that they thought that the fighting
there was a continuation of running battles in the area.
It said that Hama Province “continues to be highly volatile and
unpredictable,” with the military targeting populated areas north of
Hama on a large scale.
The internal report, titled “Restriction of Movement and Observed
Cease-Fire Violation,” detailed the military activity the observers
saw and the difficulty they had in trying to even talk to anyone from
the Syrian military.
It said that during several hours watching the fighting from afar,
the team had heard or seen 54 explosions; two flights of Mi-24
helicopters, including one firing air-to-ground rockets; sporadic
heavy machine gun and small-arms fire; and plumes of black and white
smoke. It also noted that various vehicles in the area were
transporting armed men, including one ambulance with a wounded
Local contacts checking in by telephone reported that 50 people were
killed and 150 wounded in Tremseh, the report said. Dalal Mawad
contributed reporting. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company
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