UN observer team arrives at location of Syrian killings


UN observers in Syria have entered a village where government forces reportedly carried out a massacre this week.

Opposition sources say up to 305 people in Tremseh were killed by forces loyal to the Assad regime.

Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for the UN mission in Syria, said that an 11-vehicle observer team entered the village of Tremseh to “seek verification of the facts.” He said they went in after the UN was informed that a ceasefire there was in place.

Earlier, Turkey’s prime minister warned Syrian leaders that the Syrian people will “make them pay” for massacres like the reported killings in Tremseh. Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the killings an attempted “genocide” and said such acts of violence are “the footsteps of a regime that is on its way out”.

World leaders have heaped criticism on President Bashar Assad’s regime for the mass killings.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said reports of a massacre by Syrian government forces in the village of Tremseh cast "serious doubts" on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's commitment to a UN-backed peace plan.

"I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the indiscriminate use of heavy artillery and shelling of populated areas, including by firing from helicopters," Mr Ban said in a statement.

"They also cast serious doubts on President al-Assad's recent expression of commitment to the six-point plan in his meeting with the Joint Special Envoy," he said, referring to Assad's meeting with international envoy Kofi Annan in Damascus on Monday.

French president François Hollande said today there was still time to find a political solution to avoid a civil war in Syria but urged Russia to stop blocking efforts for a resolution at the United Nations Security Council.

"I told [Russian President] Vladimir Putin that the worst thing that could happen is a civil war in Syria so let's work together to find a political solution to avoid civil war. There is still time," Mr Hollande said during an interview marking Bastille Day.

The White House said that these further atrocities by the Assad regime should eliminate any doubt that a co-ordinated international response was necessary at the UN – an apparent reference to Russian and Chinese reluctance to join condemnation of Assad.

Mr Ban and Mr Annan have stepped up pressure on the divided UN Security Council today, urging that it demand a halt to the escalating violence in Syria and promise “consequences” if the conflict does not end.

The UN chief and the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria renewed their appeals for Security Council action following yesterday’s attack on the poor farming village in Hama province.

They accused the Syrian government of violating Security Council resolutions by using heavy weapons, including artillery, tanks and helicopters, in the attack on Tremseh, killing scores of people in what rebels claim was among the worst single events in the uprising.

Mr Ban sent a letter today to the Security Council and enclosed a separate letter from Mr Annan urging Security Council action to help end the 16-month conflict.

Under Mr Annan’s six-point peace plan, which was endorsed by the council but never implemented, the Syrian government was to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas and halt all violence, to be followed by a cessation of hostilities by the opposition.

The council is debating a new Security Council resolution on Syria, spurred by the July 20th expiration of the mandate for the UN observer force there and the failure of Mr Annan’s plan.

Russia and Britain have circulated rival texts, and Mr Ban and Mr Annan’s comments indicated a strong preference for the Western-backed British draft.

It threatens non-military sanctions against President Bashar Assad’s government if it does not withdraw troops and heavy weapons from population centres within 10 days. The proposed resolution is under the UN Charter’s Chapter 7, which can be enforced militarily.

Russia said yesterday it will oppose any resolution on Syria that is militarily enforceable, calling it “a red line”.

Moscow’s draft resolution calls for the “immediate implementation” of the Annan peace plan and the guidelines for a political transition approved at a meeting in Geneva last month, but makes no mention of sanctions, saying the council will assess implementation and “consider further steps as appropriate”.