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New Despair After Syria Massacre

July 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: A fresh atrocity in Syria stirred new condemnation today, and new despair over how to stop the killing. The opposition claimed the military and Alawite militias loyal to President Assad had slaughtered Sunnis. Accounts of how many died ranged from 70 to more than 200.

We begin with a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

And a warning: Some of the images may be disturbing.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: “These are burned bodies,” says a voice in a mosque which is clearly now a mortuary, and it’s full of relatives from the village of Tremseh grieving for their dead.

In these pictures, we counted 31 bodies laid out for burial. It’s just the first group, the cameraman says. Tonight, the U.N. is confirming what this amateur video shows, that Syrian helicopters have been attacking areas not far from Tremseh today, the U.N. says, on a large scale.

“Assad’s forces are shelling Tremseh,” says the voice-over. And this video shows a long line of Syrian government troops and local militia leaving the area. “Well done in Tremseh,” somebody shouts.

The U.N. observers say they got about four miles from the village today before being stopped by Syrian air force commanders.

“Give my mom my love,” says this wounded man. We don’t know if he was a civilian or a rebel fighter defending his village. The voice filming this graveyard talks of bloody Thursday in Tremseh. It’s clear scores were killed here. A local activist admitted that opposition fighters had been in the village, but he told me this attack was unprovoked.

MOUSAB AL-HAMADEE, Syria (through translator): There is only battle from one side. There have nothing to meet the tanks and the artillery and helicopters of the regime.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The Hama district has a history of extreme violence. Tens of thousands of Sunnis were massacred here by the Assad regime 30 years ago.

Tremseh is a Sunni village just northwest of the city. The village sits close to the Orontes River, from which 50 corpses were dragged yesterday, according to one eyewitness. Tremseh is surrounded by Alawite villages, and it’s from these three villages that yesterday’s attackers are alleged to have come.

Nearby is the village of al-Qubair, where 78 Sunnis were shot or stabbed in early June. Twenty miles south is Houla, where 108 Sunnis were killed in another massacre in May. And the area is so religiously and ethnically mixed that sectarian bloodletting may well worsen here.

Pro Assad media have also reported the Tremseh killings, blaming them on armed terrorists. All the pictures of the dead which we have seen so far show young men, and not women or children.

News of the killings has resulted in demonstrations right across Syria, and these pictures of intense gun battles suggest that Homs, some 30 miles from Tremseh, is still the epicenter of this conflict.