The attack on the Syrian city of Tremseh, widely condemned by the West as civilian murder, actually targeted rebels and army defectors, says a UN investigation. The findings contradict opposition claims of civilian killings by Assad forces.
A team of monitors visited the site of the killings on Saturday. After a preliminary examination they concluded that “the attack on Tremseh appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists.”
“A variety of weapons were used in an attack on the Syrian village of Tremseh, where more than 150 people were killed this week, with the homes of rebels and activists bearing the brunt,” the UN mission said.
However, the mission said the death toll was still unclear. Damascus says 37 fighters and two civilians were killed in their “military operation,” while the activists are talking of around 220 civilians dead after “clashes with opposition protesters.”
The UN monitors plan to return to the area and continue the investigation, many conclusions of which so far appear to coincide with Damascus’s claims that the attack on Tremseh was part of a counter-terrorist operation in the area.
"Armed forces units on Thursday morning carried out a 'special operation' in Tremseh … that targeted the gatherings of terrorist group members," said Syrian state news outlet SANA, quoting a military source.
The Syrian government said the operation was launched in response to civilian pleas for help in the area, claiming that they had been victims of “criminal acts at the hands of armed terrorist groups.”
At the same time, the Syrian Foreign Ministry rejects Kofi Annan’s claims that helicopters and tanks were involved in the Tremseh “clashes”.
"Government forces did not use planes, or helicopters, or tanks or artillery. The heaviest weapon used was an RPG (rocket propelled grenade)," the ministry's spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters in Damascus.
Earlier, both the UN observers and opposition activists said they saw attack helicopters firing at targets in Tremseh. Having entered the town in the Hama province, the UN mission concluded artillery, mortars and small arms had been fired, but did not make any further comments on the use of helicopters or tanks.
Following reports of the killings, the international community was quick to condemn the Assad government for the “massacre”, with Washington branding Syrian leaders as murderers.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon said that the reports cast doubt over President Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to UN envoy, Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
Meanwhile, the International Committee for the Red Cross has changed the status of the Syrian crisis to "non-international armed conflict" which amounts to a civil war. The new status can lay grounds to prosecute war crimes, such as murder, torture, rape, or use disproportionate force against civilian areas.
Author and historian Gerald Horne said that anti-Assad rhetoric immediately triggered by the Tremseh killings was indicative of a media “blame game.”
“First of all it’s very curious that just before important UN meetings we hear reports about massacres.” He added that speculation over the number of victims and whether or not women and children were involved undermined the credibility of media reports on the killings.
Horne went on to stress that there were many interests at play in the Syrian conflict and that “regime change is the name of the game with Syria.”
He told RT that some parties involved “would like to see a replay of the Libyan misadventure when cries for humanitarian aid were really just a mask for regime change.”