Syria Unrest: UN Observers To Probe Tremseh Killings

UN observers are hoping to enter the village of Tremseh to investigate reports of mass killings on Thursday.

An image said to show relatives grieving for the dead in Tremseh

UN observers are hoping to enter the village of Tremseh to investigate reports of mass killings on Thursday.

A team has set off from the capital Damascus for Tremseh, 25km north-west of the city of Hama.

There has been international condemnation of the killings of up to 200 people.

The Syrian government insists this was a military operation against rebel fighters and there are no detailed reports yet of civilian casualties.

UN officials told the Efe news agency a team of UN observers had left Damascus in a convoy of three vehicles on Saturday for Tremseh.

Observers from UNMIS (the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria) were seen checking vehicles before heading off in the direction of Hama.

The UN observers have had their normal duties suspended because of the violence but are able to pinpoint missions to investigate specific incidents.

'Shocked and appalled'

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says it remains far from clear what took place at Tremseh.

The government says its armed forces mounted a special operation after tip-offs from local people about large numbers of armed rebels operating from hideouts there.

A statement from the Syrian military says that the hideouts were destroyed, with a large number of rebel fighters - or "terrorists" as the government calls them - being killed, and dozens captured.

Some of them were paraded on state TV describing their activities, and it showed large quantities of arms and ammunition it said were seized.

The statement said no civilians were killed in the fighting.

Our correspondent says that, in contrast to the massacre at Houla two months ago, the opposition has not yet produced videos or a detailed lists of names of civilians killed.

He says that activist and human rights groups have named a handful of civilians they say died in the bombardment of the village, but the few video postings they have produced, showing the bodies of young men, are consistent with the government line that many rebel fighters were killed.

However, UN observers have confirmed that government forces used tanks, artillery and helicopters during the attack, in violation of a commitment given to UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan.

Mr Annan was among those who reacted angrily to the killings, saying he was "shocked and appalled".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the attack cast "serious doubt" on President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to the peace plan.

"There will be serious consequences for continued non-compliance," Mr Ban said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested the Syrian army had "deliberately murdered civilians" in Tremseh.

Meanwhile, violence has continued elsewhere across Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shelling and fighting in the central province of Homs killed at least five people on Saturday.

The Observatory reported more government helicopter attacks - this time in southern Deraa province - and said that 118 people were killed across the country on Friday.

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

Some 16,000 people are thought to have been killed since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad's regime began in March 2011.

The UN Security Council is currently debating the future of the UN observer mission in Syria, which is set to come to an end on 20 July.

Western nations want to increase the threat of sanctions in the new Security Council resolution on the future of the mission.

China and Russia remain opposed to any moves to threaten further sanctions.