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Massacre in Tremseh? Syrians deny it but evidence mounts

Death toll estimates of 200 in the village of Tremseh are not confirmed. But eyewitnesses say, and amateur videos show, an attack. Syrian officials blame 'terrorists.'

By Ben HubbardAssociated Press / July 13, 2012

Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood, chief of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), speaks during a news conference in Damascus July 13, 2012. At left is Mood's spokeswoman Sawsan Ghoshe.

REUTERS

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Beirut

Anti-regime activists in Syria said Friday that government gunners rained shells on a poor, farming village before armed thugs moved in, leaving scores of people dead in what rebel backers claim is one of the worse single days of bloodshed in the uprising against Bashar Assad's regime.

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The accounts — some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday — could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion.

Much remains unclear about what happened in Tremseh in central Syria and why Assad's troops moved against the isolated village. Amateur videos showed the bodies of 17 people said to have been killed. Local activists, who gave the high death toll, could not provide lists of names, saying they were still being compiled.

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But the violence was certain to raise even more doubts about the fraying peace efforts of international envoy Kofi Annan, who said he was "shocked and appalled" by the reports of the attack. He criticized the government for using heavy weaponry in populated areas, a violation of his struggling peace plan meant to end Syria's crisis.

One amateur video posted online late Thursday showed the dead bodies of 15 men lined up on a floor. Some are covered in blood and have wounds to their heads and chests. A second video shows a man's body lying on a hospital gurney.

Yet another video showed a young man wailing over the body of an elderly grey-haired man wrapped in a blanket and lying in the street.

"Come on, Dad. For the sake of God, get up," the man sobs. A boom is heard in the background.

For its part, the Syrian government said more than 50 people were killed when Syrian forces clashed with "armed gangs" that were terrorizing village residents. The regime has referred to those seeking its overthrow as terrorists throughout the 16-month uprising.

The killings in Tremseh, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, reflect the difficulty of getting reliable information on events inside Syria, a country of 22 million people that is about the size of North Dakota and closed to most journalists.

The killings will also likely fuel further debates between world powers that remain sharply divided on what to try next to stop Syria's violence. All previous efforts, including Annan's plan, have failed to quell the bloodshed.

Two activists reached Friday via Skype who said they were in villages near Tremseh gave similar accounts of the previous day's events.

Bassel Darwish said the army surrounded the village early Thursday to prevent people from fleeing and pounded it until early afternoon with artillery and tank shells and missiles from a combat helicopter.

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