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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tremseh Massacre in Syria: What we know

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What is increasingly looking like the worst massacre yet perpetrated by the Assad regime took place in Tremseh, Syria. I broke the news here at the Daily Kos at 3:47pm pst, ahead of almost everyone in the MSM with BREAKING: ~227 reported massacred by Assad's forces in Tremseh, Syria today! Details were sketchy at the time but a lot more details have developed overnight. I will be updating this diary as more become available so check back often.

BBC News just posted this very informative report:

Syria crisis: Conflicting reports of Tremseh killings

13 July 2012 Last updated at 09:33 ET

There are conflicting reports from Syria about the deaths of dozens of people in Tremseh, a village in Hama province.

Opposition activists and witnesses say army tanks bombarded the village on Thursday for several hours before pro-government militiamen swept in, shooting and stabbing victims at close range. They report that as many as 220 people were killed, including a number of rebel fighters.

The Syrian government says at least 50 people were killed in Tremseh, but it blames "armed terrorist groups".

If the opposition's death toll and accounts are confirmed it would be one of the worst massacres since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
'Bodies burned'

Tremseh is a predominantly Sunni Muslim farming village about 35km (20 miles) north-west of the city of Hama, surrounded by villages dominated by Alawites, the Shia heterodox sect to which President Assad belongs.

According to initial accounts from activists and witnesses, a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles, containing uniformed soldiers and members of a pro-government militia - known as "shabiha" - as well as tanks and artillery, surrounded Tremseh at about 06:00 (03:00 GMT) on Thursday, searching for members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

A resident of the nearby Kfar Hod, Abu Mohammed, told the New York Times that the soldiers and tanks were deployed to the east of the village, from where they opened fire with heavy weapons and machine-guns.

Shabiha were deployed along the western edge of Tremseh and "fired at anyone or any car that tried to leave the village", he added. The River Orontes provided a natural barrier to the south.

An account published on Thursday afternoon said the electricity and telephone lines were also cut, causing people to gather in the streets "in a state of fear and panic", "unable to flee because of the blockade".

It appears that there were members of the Free Syrian Army in the village, but it is not clear how many and to what extent they resisted.

However, activists and witnesses all said that after the bombardment subsided in the afternoon, shabiha swept into the village and killed people one by one. Many were shot or stabbed, and dozens of bodies were burned or dumped in the streets, they added.

The UN Stabilisation Mission in Syria (Unsmis) confirmed there had been "continuous fighting" on Thursday in the Tremseh area, which had "involved mechanised units, indirect fire, as well as helicopters".
more ...

Once again EAWorldView has excellent coverage:
Syria Live Coverage: A New "Massacre"?
Friday, July 13, 2012 at 12:53 | James Miller i

A Thursday night demonstration in support of the victims of Tremseh in Syria


1435 GMT: Syria. Activist Hama Echo has spoken with a contact inside Tremseh, identified as Mahmoud al-Alaiwi, and has the following report:






Hama Echo is an important source, someone with many contacts inside the opposition, and so is trying to verify as much information as he can. He also posts the names of 103 people killed in the massacre. While at this point this information is impossible to verify, the more information that comes out now, the easier it will be to verify information in the coming days.

1416 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has spoken to Khalid Saleh, executive member of the Syrian National Council, about the Tremseh massacre. According to Saleh, the massacre may have been an attempt to boost the moral of the Syrian regular army (ironic, in light of our previous update). Saleh also assures The Guardian that the evidence that 200+ have been killed in Tresmeh is extremely well documented.

Saleh also responded to questions about the opposition's recent meetings with the Russian government in Moscow:

He said Russia's support for Assad was inconsistent and showing signs of wavering.

"The Russians are still talking about a dialogue with the Assad regime, this is not something that the forces on the ground, or Syrian National Council, are willing to accept.

"Although the Russians say they are not holding firmly to Assad, in one sentence, in the next sentence, they are asking us still to have a dialogue with him. They are giving us two different positions within 60 seconds."

Asked if the SNC left Moscow empty handed, he said:

"We made some progress ... it was semi-promising that the Russians are saying they are not holding firm to Assad and they are not insisting on him remaining in power.

"Some parts of the Russian delegation were more understanding than other parts. They understand that there is a very heavy price for their delay. They understand that their delaying tactics are really supporting the Assad [regime] and the killing of civilians."

1408 GMT: Syria.
The Lebanese publication The Daily Star reports a large number of defections overnight, both officers and enlisted soldiers:

Two Syrian brigadier generals and a score of other soldiers crossed into Turkey, bringing the total number of high-ranking defectors to 17 amid escalating violence, Anatolia news agency said Friday.

A total of 227 Syrians fled to Turkey from neighbouring Syria overnight, including the two brigadiers who deserted from Bashar al-Assad's army to join the rebels based on the Turkish side of the border, the agency said.

1343 GMT: Syria. We have made an update to our article, A Massacre in Tremseh --- What We Know So Far.

"Hama Echo," an activist in Hama, is collecting some key videos that he believes are reliable. So far, there are a collection of videos showing the bodies being laid in mass graves, and people moving bodies out of the mosque. We'll focus on two that give us the most information.

The first shows a series of bodies (we count 35) laid in a row, having been wrapped in burial garments.

The second video may have been taken before this, as it shows unwrapped bodies. Some of them have been burned, and some appear much smaller than others, possibly indicating that children are among the dead, though this has not been confirmed:

The AFP has posted a report from an activist who is part of the Sham News Network, an anti-Assad activist network, that claims that most of the dead were Free Syrian Army fighters:

"The rest were members of the [rebel] Free Syrian Army," he told AFP.

"An army convoy was on its way to the region of Hama when it was attacked by the FSA,"
he said. "The army staged a counter-attack with the support of [pro-regime] reinforcements from [nearby] Alawite villages. The FSA resisted for an hour before it was defeated."

An activist at a media center in Hama also said "a large number of rebels were killed in fighting between the FSA and the regular army."

Identifying herself as Mariam, she told AFP by Skype that the incident occurred when government forces stormed the village in a bid to retake it and the rebels withdrew when they found themselves outnumbered.

1208 GMT: Syria
. In the last several days there have been reports of renewed government crackdown in Houla, the site of the previous infamous massacre, with reports of periodic shelling. Today, multiple sources report that there have been protests there, despite the ever-present threat of government violence:


1134 GMT: Syria. The UN envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan has condemned that massacre in Tresmeh, and has placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Assad regime:
Referring to the killings as “atrocities,” Mr. Annan spoke in a statement of “intense fighting, significant casualties, and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks and helicopters.”

“This is in violation of the government’s undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers”
and its commitment to a peace plan sponsored by Mr. Annan.

Meanwhile, General Mood, the head of the UN monitoring mission, has said that the monitors will try to reach the site if there is a "credible ceasefire."

Little information is known right now. Activists who have spoken to The Guardian report that satellite connections, internet, and phones have gone dead.

If the Qubair massacre is any indication, news from Tremseh will take some time. First of all, the area is fairly remote, and the area is likely controlled by the military. In Qubair, the military occupied the village the next day, and by the time the UN and international reports arrived at the scene there was nothing left by blood and burned ruins.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started while on the road.

0950 GMT: Syria. Syrian news agency SANA's explanation of the mass killings in Tremseh:

Tens of terrorists overrun the village of al-Treimseh in Hama Countryside yesterday, killing or wounding tens of Syrian civilians.

The terrorists, according to eye witnesses who appeared on Syrian TV to narrate the reality of events on the ground, ransacked, destroyed and burned scores of the village houses before the competent authorities arrive to the village.

Abo Arif al-Khalid, an eye witness from the targeted village, stated in a phone call to Syrian TV, that the village of al-Treimseh lived a nightmare when armed terrorist groups attacked it and opened random fire on its inhabitants and houses, killing more than 50 persons, and exploding houses, among which the house of his cousin.

A woman and her child were killed by the terrorists before the eyes of all the people there, added Abo Arif al-Khalid, regretting the absence of the Syrian Army or security personnel from the village.

''Had the Army or security personnel existed in the village, the terrorists wouldn't have been able to overrun the village and perpetrate their massacres,'' said Abo Arif al-Khalid with a crying voice.

The competent security units, in response to al-Treimseh inhabitants' pleads, clashed with the terrorists, inflicting huge losses upon them, capturing scores of them, confiscating their weapons, among which Israeli-made machineguns.

3 security personnel were martyred during the clashes, according to SANA reporter in Hama.

Meantime, an information source blasted the news circulated by some bloody media outlets, like al-Jazeera and al-Arabyia, as a bid to manipulate public opinion against Syria and its people and as to bring foreign intervention in Syria on the eve of a UN Security Council session.

The source underscored that the phobia from the foiling of the conspiracy against Syria by some Zionist media channels, which are partners in the aggression against the Syrian People, led these media outlets into a hysterical situation, so that they disseminated lies and fabrications not to mention their old and out of place and Syrian geography scenes of events and demonstrations.

0940 GMT: Syria.
Claimed footage of regime tanks entering Tremseh before yesterday's mass killing of residents:

0830 GMT: Syria. The opposition Syrian National Council has called on the United Nations Security Council to pass a binding resolution condemning the Assad regime over the mass killings in Tremseh, opening up the prospect of international intervention.

The SNC asserted, "To stop this bloody madness which threatens the entity of Syria, as well as peace and the security in the region and in the world, requires an urgent and sharp resolution of the Security Council under Chapter VII (of the UN Charter) which protects the Syrian people.

Chapter VII allows for punitive measures against regimes considered a threat to the peace, including economic sanctions and military action.

The SNC continued, "We expect members of the Security Council to assume total responsibility to protect defenceless Syrians against these shameful crimes."

The Muslim Brotherhood, a member of the SNC, said United Nations envoy Kofi Annan, Iran, and Russia must share blame because of their inaction: "We don't consider the monster Bashar [President Assad] as being solely responsible for this heinous crime...but (also) Kofi Annan, the Russians and the Iranians and all countries which pretend to be guardians of peace and stability in the world but who remain silent."

0720 GMT: Syria
. After meetings with Syrian opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, in Moscow this week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov has issued a declaration that needs de-cyphering: “To be honest, we do not see our partners being as ready (as Russia) to work with the opposition, and [United Nations] Kofi Annan is the main mediator of this process. Unfortunately, so far we don’t see any practical results from his and his team’s contact with the opposition."

0717 GMT: Syria
. US officials claim that Damascus has begun moving parts of its arsenal of chemical weapons out of storage facilities.

Washington and European allies have expressed concern over undeclared stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas, and cyanide, considering how to take control of the weapons in the even of a protracted conflict.

0630 GMT: Syria. Amid Thursday's reports of regime shelling of the Kafarsouseh section of Damascus, a "Special Correspondent" writes for The Washington Post about the tension in the capital:
The city now feels pregnant with rage, and ready to explode.

Anti-regime graffiti are scribbled on the walls in almost every neighborhood. At night, the sound of shelling in nearby suburbs that have fallen under rebel control echoes through the streets, disturbing the sleep of rich and poor alike. Flying — or tayara — protests, in which small groups stage sudden and swift demonstrations, are increasing even in some of the more upmarket neighborhoods of the city. And recent strikes by merchants of the renowned Damascus souks have eroded perceptions that they still support the government....

One reason for the shifting mood is the influx of people who have flooded into Damascus in recent months, seeking refuge from the fighting elsewhere in the country....They have brought with them stories of pain and injustice, infecting Damascenes with some of the anger that has sustained the uprising elsewhere for about 16 months.

0540 GMT: Syria. Friday opens with news, broken and analysed by EA's James Miller overnight, that scores of people --- reports go up to 220 --- have been killed in Tremseh in Hama Province.

The pattern claimed by activists fits that of this spring's mass killings in Houla and al-Qubair. After the town was shelled, pro-regime men stormed it, slaying the residents. Fadi Sameh, who said he left the town before the assault but had been in touch with residents, summarised:

It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Traimseh 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 that many of the bodies were taken to a local mosque.

Abu Mohammad, a resident of a nearby village named Kfar Hod, said he had visited Tremseh afterward and found dozens of bodies in fields, on streets, and in private homes. He said about 50 corpses had been retrieved from the Orontes River adjoining the village.

Abu Mohammad said a convoy of vehicles from Alawite villages had parked outside the village early Thursday, including five trucks filled with soldiers, and began shooting. They were backed by tanks along the village’s eastern edge. Pro-Assad militiamen known as shabiha deployed on the western edge of the village, he said, and “fired at anyone or any car that tried to leave the village".

EAWorldView Syria Special: A Massacre in Tremseh --- What We Know So Far

Everyone is talking about a massacre, a killing of epic proportions, in a place called Tremseh (map), a roadside village 15-16 miles northwest of Hama. The range of deaths varies greatly, but there are many reports that between 100 and 220 people were killed in the village, a village of only around 6,000 residents. Let's recap what we know for sure. For starters, this massacre did not come fully unanticipated. Early on Thursday morning, EA received reports, and posted videos, that a series of towns, Kornaz, Jalama, and Tremseh (from north to south). What was curious about these reports was both the voracity of the attacks on these towns and their remote location. Previous to this, a large amount of violence has occurred on the road that runs from Kafr Zita to Khan Sheikhoun, or further northwest in Qa'allat al Madiq. I did not know where Tremseh or Jalama were before I made those early reports. The reports, all from different sources, that three villages were heavily attacked on the same road, suggested to us that a fairly major military operation was occurring along that route. It was also interesting that so many buildings in all three villages were reportedly on fire, suggesting that there may have been similar shells used against all three areas.
Reports from Tremseh were scattered beyond this original entry. However, two videos (1 and 2) show that there were some wounded earlier. Still, many villages and towns were shelled on Thursday (so many are shelled every day), so the reports were not of particular interest. What we missed was that reports of shabiha, pro-regime paramilitary thugs, were reported in the area of Tremseh, by reliable sources not prone to exaggeration, a full 15-17 hours before rumors started to emerge of a massacre in the town: Multiple activists reported a similar story, that the village was shelled for 5 or more hours, killing many, and then shabiha were deployed to the town, killing many more. This report, posted by an activist Facebook page, is both the first narrative we posted and is perhaps the most detailed, but different and similar reports were posted nearly simultaneously by disparate sources who do not seem to have coordinated the reports:
The town of al-Treimseh, which located on al-Sqeilabiya Road and is about 35 kilometers away from Hama, was subjected to violent shelling by the Assad army since the early hours of the morning. A convoy composed of 25 cars filled with army personnel and security forces, 3 BMPs, 5 Zell cars with Shelka, and a number of shabiha thugs from surrounding villages headed toward the town. They surrounded the village from all sides and prevented residents from leaving. The shelling lasted for about 5 continuous hours. Tens were killed as a result of the violent arbitrary shelling. Afterwards, shabiha thugs from surrounding pro-regime villages (al-Safsafah – Tal Sikeen – Aseela – Hanjoor) stormed the village and committed another horrific massacre. Those who survived the shelling were slaughtered. Until this moment, there are more than 150 martyrs in the Great Mosque of al-Treimseh, and 70 martyrs on the agricultural fields, Assi River, and in homes. There are more than 140 injured, including more than 40 who are in critical condition. The number is likely to increase. More than 100 people have been detained.
The beginning of the narrative closely fits out earlier reporting, that a large military campaign was active in the area of Tremseh, and that Tremseh and surrounding towns were being heavily shelled. The second part, that the shelling intensified and shabiha entered the village, we cannot confirm. However, EA has a contact who is reportedly in Hama. According to the contact, he had communicated with someone inside the village who reported that there were 220 bodies in the town, some of whom had been gathered in the mosque and more lay outside of it. Though there is no way to independently verify this claim yet, this is a source that has been consistently reliable. The New York Times has also spoken to an activist who claims to have first-hand knowledge of the events in the village:
Abu Mohammad, a resident of a nearby village named Kfar Hod, who said he had visited Tremseh afterward, described in a telephone interview a scene of devastation, with bodies strewed in fields, on streets and in private homes. He said about 50 corpses had been retrieved from the Orontes River adjoining the village. Most residents were farmers, said Abu Mohammed, who did not want to be identified by his complete name for fear of retribution. He said a convoy of vehicles from Alawite villages had parked outside the village early Thursday, including five trucks filled with soldiers, and began shooting. They were backed by tanks along the village’s eastern edge. Pro-Assad militiamen known as shabiha deployed on the western edge of the village, he said, and “fired at anyone or any car that tried to leave the village.”
Again, there are some interesting consistencies between all of these reports. The fact that so many sources have published so many narratives which are basically consistent suggests that there is validity to these details. So far, the sun is just coming up in Syria, and so very little information has been verified. However, a video has been widely circulated, and appears to be trusted by many activists and opposition media sources. The extremely graphic video appears to show 15 bodies lined up in a row. We can say with a degree of certainty that we have not seen this video before. According to the description, the activists who are sharing it, and the narration, this video shows some of the victims of the Tremseh massacre: Other videos and pictures have been less convincing, and some we have proven to be outright falsifications, though as of yet none of our reliable sources have posted any questionable material. Without any cross-verification or daytime images, we still have to treat all of this information as unconfirmed. We will likely know more within a few hours. This information is likely to change before I wake up, and this story is likely to progress throughout the day. Stay tuned.
UPDATES 1343 GMT: "Hama Echo," an activist in Hama, is collecting some key videos that he believes are reliable. So far, there are a collection of videos showing the bodies being laid in mass graves, and people moving bodies out of the mosque. We'll focus on two that give us the most information. The first shows a series of bodies (we count 35) laid in a row, having been wrapped in burial garments. The second video may have been taken before this, as it shows unwrapped bodies. Some of them have been burned, and some appear much smaller than others, possibly indicating that children are among the dead, though this has not been confirmed: The AFP has posted a report from an activist who is part of the Sham News Network, an anti-Assad activist network, that claims that most of the dead were Free Syrian Army fighters:
"The rest were members of the [rebel] Free Syrian Army," he told AFP. "An army convoy was on its way to the region of Hama when it was attacked by the FSA," he said. "The army staged a counter-attack with the support of [pro-regime] reinforcements from [nearby] Alawite villages. The FSA resisted for an hour before it was defeated." An activist at a media center in Hama also said "a large number of rebels were killed in fighting between the FSA and the regular army." Identifying herself as Mariam, she told AFP by Skype that the incident occurred when government forces stormed the village in a bid to retake it and the rebels withdrew when they found themselves outnumbered.
Here are my related diaries on Syria: BREAKING: ~227 reported massacred by Assad's forces in Tremseh, Syria today! Syria: Is Assad regime on the verge of collapse? BREAKING: Russian Warships reported in Syria BREAKING: #Russia changing on #Assad but not as fast as conditions in #Syria UN Observers say violence in Syria is ‘Unprecedented’ BREAKING: Defection of major Assad insider reported in Syria BREAKING: WikiLeaks releases 2.4 million #Syria emails When did "Never Again" become "Whenever?" | #Douma BREAKING: Incredible mass rally in Aleppo, Syria today! BREAKING: HRW releases torture report on Syria BREAKING: Syrian General defects with 293 to Turkey BREAKING: Items not in the MSM on Syria My response to Phyllis Bennis: Where is the non-violent opposition in Syria? BREAKING: Syrian Air Force attacks Douma, 10m from Damascus, thousands flee BREAKING: As Syria Burns, UN Blows More Smoke BREAKING: Kofi Annan to propose Syrian unity gov't sans Assad! BREAKING: Douma, Syria under massive attack, another massacre feared BREAKING: Another mass defection from Syrian army BREAKING: #NATO says No War in #Syria shoot down of #Turkey jet NATO meetup tomorrow as more defect from Syria BREAKING: Turkey calls for NATO consult on downing of jet by Syria BREAKING: Senior Syrian Officers Defect UPDATED: Russia reported to be preparing to evacuate from Syria BREAKING: Syria fighter pilot defects BREAKING: Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria BREAKING: Russian troops headed to Syria Qaddafi forces Strike Back in Libya BREAKING: UN suspends mission in Syria Libya & Syria - two videos - no comment BREAKING: Russia denies supplying Syria with NEW attack helicopters Syrian people rise up against the massacre Another "Houla style" massacre in Syria Fake Houla Massacre Photo: Was the BBC set up? Idlib, Syria protest today on anniversary of Kent State killings BREAKING: Massive protests in Syria following Friday pray Syria is bleeding Syria: Ceasefire faltering as mass protests breakout

Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 3:09 PM PT:

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