Annan urges action on Syrian massacre

Kofi Annan condemned the Syrian massacre as atrocious and called for urgent action.

he head of a UN mission warned of "civil war" in Syria after his observers counted more than 92 bodies, 32 of them children on 26 May, 2012. Picture: AFP

AMMAN - Graphic scenes of grief and death in a Syrian village bore witness on Friday to a massacre President Bashar al-Assad's opponents say was the work of his troops and militia allies, drawing words of outrage from the outside world.

But with much unclear about what happened at Tremseh - where opposition activists put the death toll at anywhere between over 100 and more than twice that number - and world powers divided as ever, there was little response beyond the rhetorical.

U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan condemned "atrocities", as unverifiable video evidence of casualties from Thursday's attack on the village in rebellious Hama province emerged on the Web.

The White House said such "atrocities" had cost Assad the legitimacy to remain as leader.

Annan was "shocked and appalled" at "intense fighting, significant casualties, and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks and helicopters" in the village.

Calling it a "grim reminder" that U.N. resolutions calling for peace were being flouted, he wrote to the United Nations Security Council urging it to penalise Syria for failing to comply. But in the Council, Western powers still face objections from Russia and China to their efforts to push Assad from power.

BATTLE REPORTS

A local activist named Ahmed told Reuters there were 60 bodies at the mosque, of whom 20 were identified: "There are more bodies in the fields, bodies in the rivers and in houses."

There was no independent account of the battle, which the government described as a massacre by "terrorist groups".

Some opposition activists said over 220 people died when Tremseh was bombarded by helicopter gunships and tanks, then stormed by men from neighbouring villages in what they portrayed as a sectarian attack on Sunnis by Assad's fellow Alawites.

Others said the death toll in Thursday's attack may have been less but was certainly over 100, which would make Tremseh one of the worst atrocities of the 17-month revolt against Assad and the 42-year-old family dynasty established by his father.

Syrian state television said there was fighting in Tremseh and accused "armed terrorist groups" of committing a massacre there, but gave no death toll. Opposition rebels also said there was a battle and the U.N. military representative confirmed it.

U.N. monitors in Syria tried to reach the scene on Friday but said in a report to their Geneva headquarters that they were prevented by an continuing operation by the Syrian air force in the area, targeting urban population centres.

Opposition video segments posted on YouTube, however, provided evidence that dozens had met a violent death.

One piece of film to appear on the Internet showed the corpses of 15 young men with faces or shirts drenched in blood. Most wore T-shirts and jeans. There were no women or children.

Other videos showed rows of bodies wrapped in blankets, sheets and makeshift shrouds, some leaking blood. One man pulled aside a blanket to display a carbonised corpse. Men placed wrapped bodies in a breeze-block trench for burial.

In a mosque packed with grieving women and distraught men, bodies were collected, identified and prepared. Children stepped gingerly among the corpses covering the floor.