Verifying the number of casualties from the latest bloodletting in Syria is difficult so the number may change. Activists on the ground say 220 were killed in the village of Tremseh near the flashpoint city of Hama, while the UN confirms that the village came under combined air and ground assault, virtually leveling the place.
If confirmed, it would be the worst single incident of violence in 16 months of conflict in which rebels are fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad and diplomacy to halt the bloodshed has been stymied by jostling between world powers.
The Revolution Leadership Council of Hama told Reuters the Sunni Muslim village of Taramseh was subjected on Thursday to a barrage of heavy weapons fire before pro-government Alawite militiamen swept in and killed victims one by one.
“More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh. They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions,” the regional opposition group said in a statement on Thursday evening.
Syrian state television said three security personnel had been killed in fighting in Taramseh and it accused “armed terrorist groups” of committing a massacre there.
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, said he had left the town before the reported killing spree but was in touch with residents. “It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling.
“Every family in the town seems to have members killed. We have names of men, women and children from countless families,” he said, adding many of the bodies were taken to a local mosque.
Ahmed, another local activist, told Reuters: “So far, we have 20 victims recorded with names and 60 bodies at a mosque. There are more bodies in the fields, bodies in the rivers and in houses … People were trying to flee from the time the shelling started and whole families were killed trying to escape.”
The reports could not be independently confirmed. Syrian authorities severely limit access for independent journalists.
This is pretty much the same thing that happened in Houla in May. Fierce shelling that destroyed homes and apartments followed up by a sweep by militia forces who murdered dozens.
In the case of Tremseh, the UN confirms that helicopter gunships were involved in the assault as well.
The operation in Tremseh is assessed as an extension of the SAAF operation in Khan Sheikhoun to Souran over the recent number of days,” said the two-page report by the U.N. mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS.
There were no independent accounts of the number of dead or how they were killed. If scores of civilians were killed, it could make it the worst atrocity in 16 months of fighting between rebels and the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the UNSMIS report, a patrol of unarmed U.N. military observers could get within only about 4 miles of Tremseh before being stopped by SAAF commanders because of “military operations.”
The patrol observed the situation from a few different locations around Tremseh for about eight hours during which time it heard more than 100 explosions, sporadic small arms and heavy machinegun fire and saw white and black smoke plumes.
It saw one Mi-8 and two Mi-24 helicopters and witnessed one of the Mi-24 helicopters firing air-to-ground rockets.
Massacres like this make the Russians extremely nervous. They are out on a very thin limb supporting Syria by running diplomatic interference for them at the UN. They have already pledged not to deliver any new arms to Syria (although there is apparently a substantial amount of arms already in the pipeline), and Putin is coming under a lot of pressure from the US and NATO to do more.
But Russia is not about to stab their friend President Assad in the back by agreeing to his ouster — peacefully or otherwise. Syria is the linchpin of their Middle East strategy and they stand to lose a lot if Assad is forced out.
So the blood will continue to flow in Syria with no end in sight. And we are likely to get more massacres like the one that occurred in Tarameh.