At least 200 people are reported to have been killed in the Syrian village of Tremseh, in Hama province. Opposition activists quoted residents as saying the village was attacked by helicopter gunships and tanks. Pro-government Shabiha militia later went in on foot and carried out execution-style killings, they added.
According to Syria’s state media said “terrorist groups” had carried out a massacre to raise tensions ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on the Syria observer mission.
If the assault is confirmed then the attack on Tremseh would be one of the bloodiest single events in the Syria conflict. Reports suggest the army was trying to take back Tremseh after it had fallen into rebel hands.
The Revolution Leadership Council of Hama told the Reuters news agency that most of the dead in Tremseh were civilians. Protests condemning the attack were reported in Damascus, Idlib and Hama. Later in the day Pro-Assad forces started shelling suburbs of Damascus in an apparent offensive against rebel fighters.
Some 16,000 people are thought to have been killed since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March 2011
Earlier on Thursday, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, announced his defection – following in the footsteps of a former senior general Manaf Tlas, a Sunni brigadier general in the elite Republican Guard who grew up with the president. Both defections have given the anti-Assad uprising a desperately needed political uplift.
However Assad’s strongest ally, Russia, stuck by him on Thursday with a clear warning to his Western and Arab enemies that it would not even consider calls for a tough new resolution by the UN Security Council in New York.
Britain circulated a draft on Wednesday, backed by the United States, France and Germany, which would make compliance with a transition plan drafted by international envoy Kofi Annan enforceable under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Chapter 7 would allow the council to authorise actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.
Western nations are pressing the UN to threaten Syria with sanctions as it considers renewing the mandate for its observer mission in Syria that expires on 20 July. China and Russia continue to oppose any moves to threaten Damascus with further sanctions ahead of the 20 July deadline. The mission had a 90-day remit to monitor a truce, but fighting has continued largely unabated.