Damascus says Tremseh was "military operation"

Damascus says Tremseh was "military operation"

The village of Tremseh was the subject of a "military operation" rather than a massacre, a Syrian government spokesman said on Sunday, even as the country's allies acted to boost their role in diplomatic efforts to resolve 16 months of conflict, DPA reported.

"What happened in Tremseh was that armed gangs attacked the village and turned it into a centre of terrorist operations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi told a press conference in Damascus, referring to reports that up to 200 people had died in an assault on the village last week.

Makdisi said that "government forces used no tanks, airplanes, helicopters or artillery ... they used light weapons the heaviest of which were rocket-propelled grenades."

United Nations observers entered Tremseh, in Hama province, on Saturday after reports by opposition activists that up to 200 people had been killed after government forces stormed and shelled the area.

Spokeswoman for the observer mission Sausan Ghosheh reported on Saturday that team members saw "pools of blood and blood spatters in rooms of several homes together with bullet cases," and that the "attack appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists."

Makdisi said that Ghosheh's report backed up the government's account.

The observers had said that "any damage happened to five buildings only," Makdisi said, "and these were the points occupied by the gunmen."

Makdisi said the total death toll in Tremseh amounted to 37 "armed men" and only two civilians.

Syria's opposition Local Coordination Committees warned of a possible repeat of the Tremseh events in the neighbouring village of Jreijas, which they said had been surrounded by government forces equipped with tanks.

As clashes and shelling continued across Syria, activists reported at least 60 people were killed, including civilians, rebels and government forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces were shelling areas in eastern Deir al-Zour, the city of Homs and the nearby town of al-Rastan, and villages in the north-western Jabal al-Akrad mountains.

Fighting broke out in the capital, Damascus, on Sunday between troops and defectors, the observatory reported, describing the fighting as "the most fierce in Damascus."

Blasts and gunshots were heard in al-Tadamun, Sidi Qadad and al-Kazaz neighbourhoods in the city, and ambulances were seen transferring military personnel away from the scene.

Syria's allies meanwhile stepped up their involvement in diplomatic activity around the conflict, with the Kremlin announcing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is to meet international envoy Kofi Annan in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

The announcement comes a day after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on China to "use its influence to ensure the full and immediate implementation of (Annan's) six-point plan and the Action Group communique."

China, along with Russia, has been resisting calls by Arab and Western countries for stronger UN Security Council steps against the Syrian government.

Iran, al-Assad's closest regional ally, said it was prepared to host talks between the Syrian government and opposition, the ISNA news agency reported.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi said that the crisis in Syria should be settled within a "Syrian-Syrian framework" and without any imposed decisions from abroad.

Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said that there was a "clear pattern of ethnic cleansing" to be seen in Syria, and called for steps under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which permits enforcement action such as sanctions and, potentially, the use of force.

Speaking at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, al-Arabi said that "the delay in adopting a resolution to end the bloodshed in Syria is no longer acceptable."

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