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Friday
Jul132012

Syria Special: A Massacre in Tremseh --- What We Know So Far

Rula Amin, of Al Jazeera English, reports on the latest news from Tremseh.

See also Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: An Ambassador Defects


NOTE - This Post Has Been Updated. In order to keep the original narrative clean, I will add any further details I collect today at the bottom of this article, and not at the top. I will timestamp the updates. Check back often.


Everyone is talking about a massacre, a killing of epic proportions, in a place called Tremseh (map), a roadside village 15-16 miles northwest of Hama. The range of deaths varies greatly, but there are many reports that between 100 and 220 people were killed in the village, a village of only around 6,000 residents.

Let's recap what we know for sure.

For starters, this massacre did not come fully unanticipated. Early on Thursday morning, EA received reports, and posted videos, that a series of towns, Kornaz, Jalama, and Tremseh (from north to south) were heavily shelled earlier in the day were heavily shelled earlier in the day. What was curious about these reports was both the voracity of the attacks on these towns and their remote location. Previous to this, a large amount of violence has occurred on the road that runs from Kafr Zita to Khan Sheikhoun, or further northwest in Qa'allat al Madiq.

I did not know where Tremseh or Jalama were before I made those early reports. The reports, all from different sources, saying that three villages were heavily attacked on the same road, suggested to us that a fairly major military operation was occurring along that route. It was also interesting to see that many buildings in all three villages were reportedly on fire, suggesting that there may have been similar shells used against all three areas.

 

Below, an interactive map will take you to yesterday's reports from the area:


View Syria - 2012 July 12 - EA Worldview in a larger map

Reports from Tremseh were scattered beyond this original entry. However, two videos (1 and 2) show that there were some wounded earlier. Still, many villages and towns were shelled on Thursday (so many are shelled every day), so the reports were not of particular interest.

What we missed was that of shabiha, pro-regime paramilitary thugs, were reported in the area of Tremseh, by reliable sources not prone to exaggeration, a full 15-17 hours before rumors started to emerge of a massacre in the town:

Multiple activists reported a similar story, that the village was shelled for 5 or more hours, killing many, and then shabiha were deployed to the town, killing many more. This report, posted by an activist Facebook page, is both the first narrative we posted and is perhaps the most detailed, but different and similar reports were posted nearly simultaneously by disparate sources who do not seem to have coordinated the reports:

 

The town of al-Treimseh, which located on al-Sqeilabiya Road and is about 35 kilometers away from Hama, was subjected to violent shelling by the Assad army since the early hours of the morning. A convoy composed of 25 cars filled with army personnel and security forces, 3 BMPs, 5 Zell cars with Shelka, and a number of shabiha thugs from surrounding villages headed toward the town. They surrounded the village from all sides and prevented residents from leaving. The shelling lasted for about 5 continuous hours. Tens were killed as a result of the violent arbitrary shelling. Afterwards, shabiha thugs from surrounding pro-regime villages (al-Safsafah – Tal Sikeen – Aseela – Hanjoor) stormed the village and committed another horrific massacre. Those who survived the shelling were slaughtered.

Until this moment, there are more than 150 martyrs in the Great Mosque of al-Treimseh, and 70 martyrs on the agricultural fields, Assi River, and in homes. There are more than 140 injured, including more than 40 who are in critical condition. The number is likely to increase. More than 100 people have been detained.

 

The beginning of the narrative closely fits our earlier reporting, that a large military campaign was taking place in the area of Tremseh, and that Tremseh and surrounding towns were being heavily shelled. The second part, that the shelling intensified and shabiha entered the village, we cannot confirm.

However, EA has a contact who claims to be in Hama. According to the contact, he had communicated with someone inside the village who reported that there were 220 bodies in the town, some of whom had been gathered in the mosque and more lay outside of it. Though there is no way to independently verify this claim, yet, this is a source that has been consistently reliable.

The New York Times has also spoken to an activist who claims to have first-hand knowledge of the events in the village:

Abu Mohammad, a resident of a nearby village named Kfar Hod, who said he had visited Tremseh afterward, described in a telephone interview a scene of devastation, with bodies strewed in fields, on streets and in private homes. He said about 50 corpses had been retrieved from the Orontes River adjoining the village. Most residents were farmers, said Abu Mohammed, who did not want to be identified by his complete name for fear of retribution.

He said a convoy of vehicles from Alawite villages had parked outside the village early Thursday, including five trucks filled with soldiers, and began shooting. They were backed by tanks along the village’s eastern edge. Pro-Assad militiamen known as shabiha deployed on the western edge of the village, he said, and “fired at anyone or any car that tried to leave the village.”

Again, there are some interesting consistencies between all of these reports. The fact that so many sources have published so many narratives which are basically same suggests that there is validity to these details.

So far, the sun is just coming up in Syria, and so very little information has been verified. However, a video has been widely circulated, and appears to be trusted by many activists and opposition media sources. The extremely graphic video appears to show 15 bodies lined up in a row. We can say with a degree of certainty that we have not seen this video before. According to the description, the activists who are sharing it, and the narration, this video shows some of the victims of the Tremseh massacre:

Other videos and pictures have been less convincing, and some we have proven to be outright falsifications, though as of yet none of our reliable sources have posted any questionable material.

Without any cross-verification or daytime images, we still have to treat all of this information as unconfirmed. We will likely know more within a few hours.

This information is likely to change before I wake up, and this story is likely to progress throughout the day. Stay tuned.


UPDATES

1343 GMT: "Hama Echo," an activist in Hama, is collecting some key videos that he believes are reliable. So far, there are a collection of videos showing the bodies being laid in mass graves, and people moving bodies out of the mosque. We'll focus on two that give us the most information.

The first shows a row of bodies (we count 35) laid in a row, having been wrapped in the traditional burial cloths.

The second video may have been taken before this, as it shows unwrapped bodies. Some of them have been burned, and some appear much smaller than others, possibly indicating that children are among the dead, though, this has not been confirmed:

AFP has posted a report from an activist who is part of the Sham News Network claims that most of the dead were Free Syrian Army fighters:

"The rest were members of the [rebel] Free Syrian Army," he told AFP.

"An army convoy was on its way to the region of Hama when it was attacked by the FSA," he said. "The army staged a counter-attack with the support of [pro-regime] reinforcements from [nearby] Alawite villages. The FSA resisted for an hour before it was defeated."

An activist at a media center in Hama also said "a large number of rebels were killed in fighting between the FSA and the regular army."

Identifying herself as Mariam, she told AFP by Skype that the incident occurred when government forces stormed the village in a bid to retake it and the rebels withdrew when they found themselves outnumbered.

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