Assad troops accused of new massacre in Syria
AFP- Syrian troops with tanks and helicopters slaughtered more than 150 people in a central village, rights activists said Friday, casting a dark shadow over efforts to stop the bloodshed.
Reports of the massacre came after UN Security Council ambassadors held their first talks on rival Russian and Western draft resolutions on Syria, with Moscow spurning calls for sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
No progress was reported, with a July 20 deadline looming. That is the end date of the mandate for the UN mission to the conflict-stricken country, where activists say more than 17,000 people have died since March 2011.
On Thursday, Syrian government troops massacred more than 150 people in Treimsa village, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while a rebel leader put the toll at more than 200.
If confirmed, the killing at Treimsa in the central province of Hama would rival the massacre at Houla on May 25, when a pro-Assad militia and government forces were accused of killing at least 108 people.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone that the bodies of 30 villagers had already been identified following the sustained attack, which brought the day's total death toll in the conflict-torn nation to well over 200.
"Some are estimating higher numbers, but even at around 150, especially considering how small the town is, this might be the biggest massacre committed in Syria since the start of the revolution," he said.
"The army must have got the green light to commit a massacre of this scale, and I bear President Bashar al-Assad responsible for the killing."
Rebel leader Abu Mohamad, chief of a group based further to the north, said that the attack using helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket-launchers had killed more than 200 people in the village.
Abu Mohamad said he had been in phone contact with a resident of Treimsa who told him that government forces were on hills a few kilometres (miles) outside the town.
The army and the Shabiha, pro-regime militia who are said to accompany troops to make sure they do not desert, started to bombard Treimsa Thursday around 11:00 am (0800 GMT) and finished around 9:00 pm, according to Abu Mohamad.
But a Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi said via Skype that regime troops started shelling the village earlier, at around 6:00 am.
"That was followed by clashes with the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, but the FSA does not have a big presence in Treimsa and could not fight long," said the activist.
"The number of martyrs is very high partly because the army shelled a mosque where scores of people had taken shelter, to treat the wounded and hide from the bomb."
The village, which had a population of 7,000, he said, "is empty now. Everyone is dead or has run away."
"Almost 30 army vehicles arrived, and surrounded the village completely. There wasn't a single way out," said Ibrahim, another activist from Treimsa. "Anyone who tried to escape through the fields was shot."
Pro-regime militiamen from neighbouring Alawite villages entered Treimsa after the army raided it, Ibrahim said via Skype. "After the shelling, the army came in with light weapons, and the Shabiha followed, armed with knives."
Clashes inside the besieged village were vicious, he said, noting that "whole families were killed. There was a real street war for several hours."
Treimsa is located near Qubeir, where at least 55 people were killed on July 6, according to the Observatory. Like Qubeir, Treimsa is a majority Sunni town situated near Alawite villages.
President Assad belongs to the Alawite community -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam -- although the vast majority of Syrians are Sunni.
The state-run SANA news agency said there had been clashes between the army and an armed "terrorist" group in the village but made no mention of a massacre and gave no overall death toll.
"There were heavy losses among the ranks of the terrorists," said the report, adding that three government soldiers were killed.
Protests broke out across Syria to protest the latest killings in Treimsa. In Kfar Nabul in Hama province, scores of demonstrators gathered and chanted slogans in honour of the dead, according to amateur video posted on YouTube by activists. "O God, we only have you to rely on," they cried.
Spontaneous protests also erupted in other areas, including the northern province of Aleppo, the country's commercial hub, according to activists.
Activists say the Syrian government is losing control of growing areas of territory and is now battling to halt the further encroachment of opposition groups in the centre of the country.
In New York, the UN Security Council wrangled over a resolution on the future of the troubled UN mission in Syria, as Russia rejected western demands for sanctions.
Russia and the Western powers have proposed rival resolutions on renewing the UN mission in Syria and securing the implementation of the peace plan of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Russia and China have twice used their powers as permanent members of the 15-nation Council to veto resolutions that just hinted at sanctions.
The first day of talks produced no progress between the two sides. The Security Council must hold a vote before the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) runs out next week.