BEIRUT — A day after opposition activists reported mass killings in the Syrian village of Treimseh, United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan condemned the use of heavy weaponry in the town, a blatant violation of the peace plan he brokered months ago.
“I am shocked and appalled by news coming out of the village of Treimseh, near Hama, of intense fighting, significant casualties and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks and helicopters,” Annan said Friday. “This is in violation of the government’s undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and its commitment to the six-point plan.”
Syrian activist networks have reported anywhere from 150 to 200 people slain Thursday in Treimseh, saying troops shelled and then stormed the small town in Hama province alongside pro-government fighters, slaughtering men, women and children. Syrian authorities say the killings were the work of “terrorists,” its usual term for the rebels, not the government.
U.N. observers have confirmed that mechanized units and helicopters were used in Treimseh on Thursday, said Gen. Robert Mood, head of the U.N. supervision mission in Syria. Such heavy weapons are widely understood to lie in the hands of government forces, not the armed rebels.
The unarmed military observers, now grounded at hotels due to the mounting violence, stand ready to enter the site of the alleged massacre if there is a truce, Mood said at a news conference Friday.
Amateur video footage claiming to show victims of the alleged mass killings included images of bodies in rows, some with gray dust on their faces, suggesting debris had fallen on them.
Though Annan spoke out strongly against the “atrocities” and singled out the government for failing to adhere to the peace plan, the gruesome reports from Treimseh led to calls among Syrian dissidents for Annan to step down. One Facebook page that has driven protests urged Syrians to take to the streets Friday “to remove Kofi Annan — servant of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and Iran,” suggesting he was incompetent.
“Syria is Annan’s second Rwanda,” a banner on the website said, referring to his failure to stop the genocide in the African state in 1994 when he was chief of U.N. peacekeeping forces.
In the wake of the reported killings in Treimseh, “the immediate popular reaction at this stage is anger towards all,” wrote Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian opposition activist based in the U.S. “The impotence of the opposition and continued dithering by international leaders seem unfathomable to locals after so many months of bloodshed, and so many massacres. Who can blame them?”
If the number of dead is confirmed, Treimseh would be the worst massacre since the Syrian uprising began 16 months ago. Both the government and the opposition said killings had been carried out in Treimseh, though they gave radically different accounts of what happened.
Opposition activists said government troops shelled the town before joining with pro-government fighters, known as shabiha, to move in and kill its people. Hama activist Saleh Hamwi said the army was after about 40 Free Syrian Army rebels in the village.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency, however, said “tens of terrorists” had overrun the town, “killing or wounding tens of Syrian civilians.” Syrian state television reported that security forces clashed with an “armed terrorist group” and arrested several terrorists after pleas by Treimseh residents.
Treimseh is located in a farming region on the Hama countryside, an area where Sunni and Alawite villages are scattered next to one another. It lies north of Houla, where 108 people were killed in late May, spurring calls for something to be done to halt the violence.
— Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Gen. Robert Mood, head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, speaks at a news conference in Damascus on Friday. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency / Syrian Arab News Agency.