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Syria Denies Tremseh 'Massacre' While Kremlin Signals Support For Peace Plan

A video grab allegedly shows bodies of men who were killed in a reported massacre in the Syrian village of Tremseh on July 12.
A video grab allegedly shows bodies of men who were killed in a reported massacre in the Syrian village of Tremseh on July 12.
By RFE/RL
The regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has denied using tanks and helicopters in the deadly Tremseh assault that activists have described as a "massacre."

Speaking at a news conference in Damascus on July 15, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Madkissi said reports that government troops had used aircraft in the July 12 attack were "absolutely not true."

Madkissi claimed rocket-propelled grenades were the most powerful weapons used in the fighting, which he characterized as a clash between troops and armed rebels.

"Government forces did not use planes or helicopters or tanks or artillery, he said. "Everything that was said about using artillery to attack a one-square-kilometer village was not true.

"We know the goal of such claims and their timing with the discussions in the Security Council. They want additional [arguments] to counter the wise Russian efforts in the Security Council.

"What happened was not an attack by the army against innocent civilians. What happened was clashes between the forces of order and illegal armed groups that do not believe in a political solution."

But UN observers who traveled to Tremseh on July 14 described evidence of brutal fighting that targeted a wide swath of political opponents.

"We can confirm that there was a military operation on July, 12" Sausan Ghosheh, a spokeswoman for the UN Syria mission, told Reuters on July 15. "The attacks appeared targeted toward specific homes of activists as well as army defectors."

Activists say more than 150 people were killed in the assault, which would make it one of the bloodiest attacks in Syria since the start of the unrest in March 2011.

UN observers who visited Tremseh did not give a casualty toll. But the group's findings appeared to contradict government accounts of a targeted strike on strategic buildings believed to be holding weapons caches.

According to Ghosheh, observers saw evidence of widespread and random destruction, including a school building that had suffered fire damage and burned-out residential houses.

"Our UN team there observed homes which had pools of blood and blood splatters in some of the rooms as well as empty bullet cases," she said. "There was a wide range of weapons used, including heavy weapons and artillery, mortar, and small arms."

Six-Point Peace Plan

The violence has sparked fresh international outrage and renewed calls to move ahead with a six-point peace plan drawn up by UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan.

The UN Security Council remains deadlocked on the issue, with China and Russia reluctant to endorse international action aimed at pressuring Assad.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is set to visit China on July 16, has called on Beijing to "use its influence to ensure the full and immediate implementation" of Annan's peace plan, which advocates a peaceful, Syrian-led resolution to the conflict.

Annan is set to travel to Moscow for talks on the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 17.

On July 15, the Kremlin issued a statement suggesting Putin is prepared to offer Russia's backing for the plan, which it called "the only viable platform to the solution of Syria's internal problems."

Elsewhere, Syria's ally Iran has offered to host talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on July 15 that Iran is ready to "facilitate and provide the conditions for talks" between the two sides.

'Assad Let Al-Qaeda Use Syria For Iraq Attacks'

Meanwhile, in related news, Syria's former ambassador to Iraq, who earlier this week defected to the antigovernment opposition, accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of allowing Al-Qaeda to use Syria in order to carry out attacks in neighboring Iraq.

Speaking on Al-Jazeera television on July 14, Nawaf Fares criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for calling for noninterference in the crisis in Syria despite knowing what Assad "has done to him and to all of Iraq."

Fares also accused Iran of pressuring Maliki to follow Tehran's position on Syria.

"Iran is part of the problem," Fares said. "How could it be part of the solution?"

Earlier in the week, international envoy Kofi Annan said both Iraq and Iran have endorsed a plan for a political transition in Syria.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP, and aljazeera.com
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