UN wrong about Tremseh killings: Syria

UN wrong about Tremseh killings: Syria

Syria denied on Sunday accusations by special envoy Kofi Annan that it used heavy weapons or helicopters in clashes in the village of Tremseh last week, saying his comments about the fighting, which activists called a massacre, were “rushed”.

Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for Syria’s Foreign Ministry, said seat least 37 fighters and two civilians were killed in clashes during a security force campaign against the town in central Hama, from which the government said rebels were launching attacks on other areas.

Activists’ estimates of the death toll ranges from 100 to 220, many of them whole families in the village of Tremseh, where United Nations monitors say there was heavy fighting on Thursday.

“Government forces did not use planes, or helicopters, or tanks or artillery. The heaviest weapon used was an RPG (rocket propelled grenade),” Makdissi told reporters at a news conference in Damascus.

“What happened was not a massacre ... what happened was a military operation. They were clashes between security forces, whose duty is to defend civilians, and heavily armed forces that don’t believe in a political solution.”

Syria has become mired in a bloody revolt against President Bashar al-Assad that is now in its seventeenth month. Some foreign officials now say the uprising that began as street protests has morphed into a civil war.

Makdissi also responded to reports of the desertion of General Manaf Tlas, a member of the Assad inner circle, saying he “left without permission”. It was the first government acknowledgment of his disappearance, but Makdissi did not comment on reports that Tlas defected to the opposition.

While the US and its European and Arab allies are wary of rebel forces in Syria, which have proved fractious, they hope an erosion of support for Assad within the elite may in time allow for a political transition without him.

Special envoy Annan, who is leading efforts to implement a peace initiative in Syria, said on Friday that Syria had violated its commitments to UN-backed peace efforts.
“I am shocked and appalled by news coming out of the village of Tremseh, near Hama, of intense fighting, significant casualties, and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks and helicopters,” he said in a statement.

“This is in violation of the government’s undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and its commitment to the six-point plan.”

Makdissi rejected Annan’s accusations, which were repeated in a letter sent to Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem

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