The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said Treimseh had been bombarded by Syrian forces using helicopters and tanks in a bid to reclaim the town from rebels, killing more than 100 people. Another activist network, the Local Coordination Committees, later said more than 220 people were killed in Hama province, most of them in Treimseh.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency said late Thursday that the killings were the work of terrorists, its usual term for armed rebels, in an attempted push for foreign intervention.
None of the claims could be independently verified Thursday. The country has strictly limited access for journalists, making it difficult to confirm what is happening in the embattled nation.
Khalid Abu Abdullah, an activist who said he briefly sneaked into the town, said he saw more than 100 bodies laid out on the floor of a mosque. Many of the dead apparently had died in shelling or rocket fire from helicopters, but some were pulled from the nearby Assi River after being slaughtered, he said.
Early Thursday, dozens of government tanks surrounded and began shelling the town, 15 miles west of the city of Hama, said Mosab Hamadi, a Local Coordination Committees activist in Hama. The bombardment continued through the afternoon, when army soldiers and armed thugs from nearly villages stormed the town, shooting at people and arresting all the men, Hamadi said.
The injured were taken away and many of their bodies were later found burned, said Hamadi, who is in a village about 15 miles from Treimseh and has been able to contact people in the only village by phone.
"The bodies are still thrown on the ground in front of homes and in the streets,” Hamadi said. "We are waiting till the morning so we can go into the village and help the residents to bury their dead.”
Government forces were seeking about 40 Free Syrian Army rebel fighters in the town of about 10,000 people, said Saleh Hamwi, an activist with the General Commission for the Syrian Revolution in Hama.
"This savagery is a collective punishment for any town that supports the Free Syrian Army,” he said. "This is the type of crime the regime uses to strike a town hard in order to scare the other towns so they won’t participate in the revolution. ... This will just increase the anger among the people."
Mass killings have been disputed in Syria before: Syrian officials said rebels were behind a massacre in Houla, where more than 100 people were slain in May. Activists said thugs loyal to the government were to blame. The United Nations peacekeeping chief said the government was responsible for some of the killings and there was strong suspicions the rest were the work of militias.
If the Treimseh reports are correct, the killings would be one of the biggest massacres reported in Syria to date. Opposition activists said protests were breaking out in several areas across Syria in condemnation of the massacre, including in Dara, Latakia, Damascus and its suburbs.
The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have lost their lives in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began 16 months ago; activists say at least 17,000 have been killed. An attempted peace plan has failed to stop the violence as world powers have struggled to agree on new measures to end the crisis.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: In this citizen journalism image taken Wednesday, Syrians rally in Damascus. Credit: AP Photo/Shaam News Network