15 Jul 2012

Syria denies UN criticism of Tremseh attack

10:18 pm on 15 July 2012

Syria has rejected claims by the UN that it used heavy weapons in an attack on the village of Tremseh on Thursday.

It accused UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan of "rushed" comments, adding that only troop carriers and small arms were used in the operation.

Syria said what occurred were armed clashes, not a massacre, with only 37 recorded deaths - far short of the 200 or so deaths activists have suggested.

The BBC reports UN observers have returned to Tremseh to continue investigations.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference in Damascus that no attack helicopters, aircraft or armoured tanks were used in the attack, only troops carriers and small arms, including rocket-propelled grenades.

He said Mr Annan had sent a "rushed" letter to Syria's foreign minister that did not conform with the facts on heavy weapon use.

Mr Makdissi said five buildings housing what he termed "armed terrorists" had been targeted.

He said the army's attack was in too small an area to use tanks.

"It was not a massacre but a response by regular military forces against heavily armed groups that do not want a political solution," Mr Makdissi said.

UN observers visit Tremseh

The UN observers' visit on Saturday confirmed the use of heavy weapons and that the government attack appeared to target rebel fighters.

But initial findings appeared to contradict reports of a civilian massacre.

However, the observers were unable to determine how many died, who they were or exactly who carried out the attack.

A BBC correspondent says that because the observers arrived in Tremseh 48 hours after the attack, all they could conclude was that it appeared to target rebel fighters or defectors from the Syrian army.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said it had the names of 103 dead, including 50 rebel fighters.

Reports of casualties often cannot be independently verified, as Syria severely restricts journalists' freedom of movement.

The UN mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS, was deployed in April to monitor a failed truce as part of international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

The Security Council must decide the future of the mission before 20 July when its initial 90-day mandate expires.

Russia has proposed extending the mission for 90 days.

Britain, the United States, France and Germany have countered with a draft resolution that extends the force for 45 days and allows the council to authorise actions ranging from sanctions to military intervention.