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Syria Blog | Victims of Tremseh Massacre Await Help that May Never Come


13 Jul 2012 20:47Comments
Rasha Elass covered the Middle East for Reuters and The National, among others. Her reportage on Islam has been recognized by the Cornell Religion Reporter award committee. She is based in Lebanon where she is reporting on Syria for Tehran Bureau and NPR.

[ blog ] Today, in the aftermath of what many are describing as a massacre in the Syrian town of Tremseh, dozens of injured people are waiting for medical help that will probably never arrive. At least 103 people are confirmed dead, including one woman and four children. It is the latest event fueling the growing sectarian nature of the 16-month conflict in Syria.

This is an account of what took place in the early hours on Thursday in a small village near the Syrian city of Hama. Syria bans journalists from entering the country, so the media relies heavily on activists inside the country and eyewitness accounts. Their names are withheld for their own safety.

Earlier today, I spoke by phone with some of these activists to get a sense of what happened. According to them, the villagers of Tremseh knew something was wrong on the eve of the massacre.

"People from inside the village were calling us frantically, but they didn't know exactly what was happening. They said they could hear the Syrian Army using the walkie-talkie in an eerie way," one activist told me by phone.

I asked him what he meant by "eerie," and he said the villagers could see the Syrian Army about two miles away, standing at the ready, their tanks aimed at the village, and there was lots of "radio noise."

"After that, all communications between us and the people inside the village went dead," the activist said.

It was not until everything was over that the activists were able to reconnect with a few people inside the village to get eyewitness accounts of what had unfolded. The witnesses said that by 5 a.m. on Thursday, about 25 army vehicles and several tanks surrounded the village. The radio noise and walkie-talkie communications between Army personnel was ongoing, and the villagers knew what was coming.

At least 100 people took shelter inside the village mosque. At 6 a.m., the Syrian Army started randomly shelling homes, then entered on foot and began to shoot. At least one helicopter flew over, but it did not fire.

Members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) also began to shoot, though it is not clear who started shooting first.

The two sides engaged in street combat for at least two hours before the FSA withdrew from the village in defeat. Both the FSA and the Syrian Army used Russian-made Kalashnikovs. The FSA also had handguns and pistols, but no mortars.

The Syrian Army then moved its heavy artillery into the village and shelled the mosque, leaving all 100 people inside either dead or injured.

Some FSA members and villagers who were fleeing the shelling on foot were caught by pro-government thugs known as Shabbiha and killed in the fields or near the Assi River where they were caught.

At press time, the village is barricaded by security forces and no one can enter. There is no sign of Syrian government medical personnel.

"We don't know how many injured people there are, but our people inside the village keep telling us they're finding more and more injured," the activist said. "They're finding them in the fields and by the river."

The New York Times reported that the general leading the suspended United Nations monitoring mission in Syria said if this massacre was confirmed, "it would be the bloodiest sectarian incident of the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad."

Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the U.N. and the Arab League to Syria, singled out in a statement on Friday the Syrian government as perpetrator of the violence in Tremseh. Tremseh is predominantly Sunni, and it is surrounded by Alawite villages, the minority Shia sect to which the Assad regime belongs.

Activists have been accusing the regime of "sectarian cleansing" along an Alawite corridor. The official Syrian news agency SANA posted on its site its own version of events, claiming that the violence in Tremseh had been due to government security forces attacking "terrorist armed gangs." This is the official line that the Syrian government has been using since the uprising against the regime began in March 2011.

The statement, posted on SANA's website, added that the "there were no civilian casualties from the military operation." But that once the Syrian army "liberated" the town, they discovered the "bodies of villagers that the terrorists had massacred."

This is YouTube footage supplied by activists of the situation in Tremseh today. Note that Tehran Bureau cannot independently verify the accuracy or validity of any of it.

شهداء مجزرة التريمسة في ريف حماة 12-7-2012 ج1
شهداء مجزرة التريمسة في ريف حماة 12-7-2012 ج2
تشييع شهداء مجزرة التريمسة في ريف حماة 13-7-2012
دفن شهداء مجزرة التريمسة في ريف حماة 13-7-2012
دفن شهداء مجزرة التريمسة في ريف حماة 13-7-2012 ج2
دفن شهداء مجزرة التريمسة في ريف حماة 13-7-2012 ج3
من شهداء مجزرة التريمسة (الطبيب مسعف فيصل الناجي) 13-7-2012
من شهداء مجزرة التريمس شهيد ذبح بطريقة وحشية 13-7-2012
مقطع مهيب لدفن شهداء مجزرة التريمسة 13-7-2012
صور لشهداء مجزرة التريمسة في ريف حماة 12-7-2012

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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