Tremseh massacre

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July 12, 2012: Reports of another "massacre", in the village of التريمسة (Tremseh, Al-Treimseh, Turaymisah) in Hama province, started to come in during a closed session meeting of the UN Security Council working on a new resolution. This initial New York Times report embodies the alarming first reports. [1]

"Syrian opposition activists said more than 200 people were killed in a Sunni village on Thursday by government forces using tanks and helicopters, [...] Reports by the Local Coordination Committees, [...] said many Tremseh victims were shot as they tried to escape the bombardments." [1]

The Syrian government insisted there was no regime massacre, only a battle the rebel side lost. As more information emerged, the death toll started looking smaller and more militant, and the massacre more like a battlefield defeat for the Free Syrian Army. Within days, the Wikipedia entry for the Tremseh massacre had been re-named "the Tremseh killings," then "operation," then "Battle of Tremseh" [2] Even earlier, on the 14th, the New York Times was reporting back differently.

"After the high toll was announced from Tremseh, as was the case with Houla and other similar episodes, Western leaders lined up to condemn the mass killings of civilians. Col. Riad al-Assad, based in Turkey as the ostensible leader of the loose coalition of fighters called the Free Syrian Army, told the Arabic television network Al Jazeera on Thursday that there had been no opposition fighters in the town.
Although what actually happened in Tremseh remains murky, the evidence available suggested that events on Thursday more closely followed the Syrian government account." [3]

Scene

Area map tremseh 1.jpg Area map tremseh 2.jpg

According to NYT, "The village lies just west of Hama, along a fault line running roughly parallel to the Orontes River between the highlands populated by Alawites and the plains dominated by Sunni Muslims [...] The previous largest massacre, in Houla, where 108 people were killed on May 25, was farther south along the same line."[1]

As the satellite image shows, the Orontes River goes from East to West, passing the village in the south. It comes meandering from Hama, Al-Rastan and Homs in the south-east, but never comes even near Houla, so the reality of this "fault line" seems questionable.

Victims

A Shifting Death Toll

The reported death toll differs wildly from 50 (SANA) through 100+ (SOHR), 170 (documents.sy)[4], 220 (Local Coordinating Committees) up to 250 ("activists" to Reuters), "At last [sic] 250 people have been killed " (Al Arabiyah) [5], and "more than 250 victims" (Sieda of the SNC). Later, the numbers went both up and down at the same time; A report of July 14 said "Syrian forces killed 52 civilians, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement yesterday,"and at the same time the Syrian National Council "said as many as 305 people were killed in the assault on the Sunni Muslim village, some as they tried to flee the town." [6]

An alleged victims list containing 103 names was published by activists based in Hama[7]

Victim and killing details, per Rebel accounts

An activist named Mariam "said that, among the dead, were for [sic] boys between the ages of 12 and 16 and one woman." [8] The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that the victims included a combined 17 women, children and elderly, along with 30 bodies charred beyond recognition. [9] Activist Mousab al-Hamadee cites "two people who were burned alive" in a house just discovered by activists and, according to his sister, "the only two doctors in the village were targeted by mortar shells. Both doctors were killed in their houses." Further, he says wounded people were executed in a house, and the Shabiha then shot their caregiver in fron of his family and burned his corpse in front of his wife.[10]

A later BBC report: "Activists and witnesses said shabiha militiamen swept into the village after the bombardment. Many people were shot or stabbed, and dozens of bodies were burned or dumped in the streets, they added. Another video showed an alleged survivor of the killings. The narrator accused the government of "ethnic cleansing". Abu Mohammed said he had visited Tremseh after the killings and seen bodies in fields, on streets and in homes. He said about 50 bodies had been pulled out of the River Orontes, and that most of the victims were farmers." [11]

An unidentified man, in a video posted on the Internet on July 14: “We were surrounded from four sides... with tanks and armored vehicles, and the helicopters were hovering above [...] They burned people in front of our eyes, they held the men like this and stabbed them,” he said, pointing to his chest and then to an artery in his throat. He said his cousin’s throat was slit. “They took out people’s eyes.” [12]

Hama-based activist Abu Ghazi tolf AFP “The number of martyrs is very high partly because the army shelled a mosque where scores of people had taken shelter, to treat the wounded and hide from the bombs,” Abu Ghazi said. “But it is obvious that the regime knows no limits. The mosque was shelled, it collapsed, and that killed the people in it.” Further, Tremseh itself “is empty now. Everyone is dead or has run away,” he said. [13]

A Battle vs. a Massacre

Initial reports and some later reports have painted a picture of a one-sided assault and massacre by the Syrian military. For example, Bloomberg Businessweek reported as late as July 15 on "Syria's bloodiest massacre," relating the following: "The assault on Tremseh began at dawn when Syrian troops surrounded the town of 10,000 residents, most of them Sunni Muslims, with 150 tanks and armored vehicles and started shelling, according to Syrian National Council member Abdulrahman Alhaj. Then soldiers, backed by the pro-government Shabiha militia, stormed the town for five hours, he said." [14]

The UN mission in Syria, UNSMIS, related in a report that “The operation in Tremseh is assessed as an extension of the SAAF [Syrian Arab Air Force]... operation in Khan Sheikhoun to Souran over the recent number of days.”

AFP/The Australian spoke to Rebel leader Abu Mohamad, "chief of a group based further to the north," who said "he had been in phone contact with a resident of Treimsa who told him that government forces were on hills a few kilometres outside the town," and "the army and the Shabiha, pro-regime militia who are said to accompany troops to make sure they do not desert, started to bombard Treimsa yesterday." [13] The same report mentioned a Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi - he said via Skype

  • the bombardment was “followed by clashes with the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, but the FSA does not have a big presence in Treimsa and could not fight long.”[13]
File:FSA killed in al-Treimseh.jpg
Three FSA members killed in al-Treimseh as seen in video and group photo.[15]

Several activist sources report[8] that the majority of the killed were rebel fighters. A video released by the "Syrian Observatory" shows around twenty dead young men in a room.[16] These seem to be rebel FSA fighters, according to the graphic analysis posted above.

Activist Mousab al-Hamadee cited among the dead "a big number of the young men" killed by helicopters "when they were trying to escape the army attack" crossing fields "driving their motorcycles." Al-[10]

The Guardian reported on the deaths of "more than 200 people, mostly civilians." [17] Rebel forces often describe their dead as civilians, which technically they are. An activistin Hama named Mariam told AFP that "a large number of rebels were killed in fighting between the FSA and the regular army." She said it started with a government attack, AFP reported, "in a bid to retake (Tremseh). Some fighters fled, and the winners "resorted to excessive force against around 30 members of the FSA inside the village," she added. [8]

AFP via Now Lebanon reported "thus far, amateur videos purportedly documenting the killing have shown the bodies only of men. (Activist) Mariam said that, among the dead, were for [sic] boys between the ages of 12 and 16 and one woman. [8]

A rebel massacre?

Abo Arif al-Khalid, an eye witness from the targeted village, stated in a phone call to Syrian TV, that the village of al-Treimseh lived a nightmare when armed terrorist groups attacked it and opened random fire on its inhabitants and houses, killing more than 50 persons, and exploding houses, among which the house of his cousin. A woman and her child were killed by the terrorists before the eyes of all the people there, added Abo Arif al-Khalid, regretting the absence of the Syrian Army or security personnel from the village. Had the Army or security personnel existed in the village, the terrorists wouldn't have been able to overrun the village and perpetrate their massacres, said Abo Arif al-Khalid with a crying voice. [18]

Allegedly arrested "terrorists"

Anastasia Popowa reports for Russian TV from a room full of confiscated weapons and equipment in Tremseh.[19]

According to the Syrian state news agency SANA[20], the authorities arrested numerous "terrorists" and confiscated large amounts of weapons. Some of those people have appeared on Addounia TV[21], Vesti.Ru in a report directly from Tremseh[19], and a total of seven were interviewed by Syrian TV/ANNA-News team[22]. Although the authenticity of their testimonies can't be verified, the Vesti.Ru report at least indicates that these people were held in Tremseh and presented to the media on July 15, 2012.

Following are summaries of their accounts as they appear in the video.[22]

The mentioned FSA group leader Saleh al-Sabaoui was reported by The Independent[23] as shot dead on July 15, 2012.

Sa'ed Darwish

A police officer born in Tremseh who served in Idlib. When he came home on vacation, the local rebel group under the command of Saleh al-Sabaoui threatened the life of him and his family if he doesn't join them. They offered to pay him, the money came from Turkey through Turkish and Libyan fighters. Twenty days before the event, foreign groups came to the village, amounting to 250-300 people. They used it as a base for operations in the region. The villagers were forced to stay at home and not go to work. After news that the army had surrounded the village, the commanders ordered to fight them with all they had. He was arrested during the battle, many died.

Mohammad Sattouf

This man, a resident of Tremseh born in 1984, says that his job among the rebels was producing videos and upload them and other peoples videos to youtube. He agrees on the number of foreign fighters and when they came to the village. He says he was part of operations mining streets and blowing up cars and mentions that the foreigners installed a facility to produce explosive devices. The commander of that brigade, Muhammed Al-Fateha Isa Ibrahim, died in the battle.

Rami Abdul Salam Darwish

Confiscated Turkish passport said to belong to an officer advising the "terrorists".[22]

Another resident of Tremseh, this man says that he joined the rebels after he was offered money and weapons when Saleh al-Sabaoui came to the village a month ago. Since then, other groups gathered, among them Libyans and a Turkish officer. The material supply came from Turkey through a man named Abu Talhat based in Idlib. He says they were surprised by the Army attack while gathering for their own next attack.

Hikmat Shihadeh al-Mustafa al-Younes

Resident of Tremseh, he joined the "Darwish-Group" of 16-17 fighters (Darwish being the family name of two of the above). He corroborates what the others report, adding that the battle lasted two hours. He capitulated after the Army asked them to do so via megaphones.

Yusef Abdullah Mahmud

This young resident of Tremseh reports that on the day of the events, his mother woke him up to send him to work on the field. But then Saleh al-Sabaoui and his men (he names a group of seven) came to force "them" to come with him and join the fight, which happened despite protests of the mother. He says he had to accompany them on revenge attacks of two houses which had contact with the soldiers, and while he was pretending to be eager by firing in the air and surroundings, staying out of the houses, the group led by Saleh al-Sabaoui broke in and killed everybody inside.

Ahmed Abdullah Mahmud

Confiscated passports, mostly Tunisian.[22]

This resident of Tremseh born in 1994 is apparently Yusef's brother and reports the same story of Saleh al-Sabaoui breaking into the houses and shooting the inhabitants dead.

Saher Al-Tayeh

This resident of Tremseh is the only one who confesses to major crimes outside of the battle. He says he was involved with a group including the commander Isa Ibrahim which kidnapped people for ransom. Two of them "we" stabbed to death after the ransom of 200 and 400 thousand liras was not payed. He's also the only one who looks reasonably thuggish and seems to be of inferior intelligence.

Unsorted

AFP/Now Lebanon: Most of the people killed in the Treimsa violence in central Syria were rebel fighters, an activist said on Friday, adding the bloodbath followed a Free Syrian Army attack on an army convoy. Several dozen rebels were among the more than 150 people killed in the central village of Treimsa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday, adding that some victims had been summarily executed. In what has widely been described as a massacre, with rebels and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad blaming each other, the Britain-based group said "several dozen rebel fighters were among those killed." Only 40 of the dead had so far been identified, including 30 badly burnt bodies and 18 people who had been "summarily executed," the group said of the Thursday incident in Hama province. Separately, two Syrian activists said most of those killed in the Thursday incident were rebels, and that they died in fighting. "At this stage, though we do not yet have the final count, the number of civilians killed by shelling is not more than seven," said Jaafar, an activist at the anti-regime Sham News Network. "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." [8]

Syria’s state television ran a series of urgent bulletins attributing the high toll to clashes between the security forces and terrorist attackers. It said that security forces had arrested a number of suspects in the village and had seized significant weapons caches including some from Israel, another standard government accusation meant to imply Israeli subterfuge. [1]

Alleged Witnesses/Informed People

  • "Activists video": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOG2NW36sa4
  • "Abu Mohammad" to New York Times[1]
  • "Fadi Sameh","Ahmed" to Reuters[17][24]
  • "Abo Arif al-Khalid" to SANA[18]
  • "Mousab Al-Hamadee" - "an opposition activist who lives 20km north of Tremseh" - to Guardian[10]
  • "Abu An-Nasr" to Al-Jazeera[25]
  • Abdulbaset Sieda, president of the Syrian National Council, to Fareed Zakaria on CNN [26]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Massacre Reported in Syria as Security Council Meets, New York Times July 12, 2012
  2. Battle of Tremseh, Wikipedia (accessed July 17)]
  3. Details of a Battle Challenge Reports of a Syrian Massacre, New York Times July 14, 2012
  4. documents.sy daily report
  5. Syrian forces commit new massacre in Hama; Russia rejects new U.N. draft resolutionAl Arabiya English, July 12, 2012
  6. Syria Forces Said to Kill 52 Civilians in Latest ViolenceBloomberg Business News, July14
  7. Unconfirmed victims list
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Syria massacre dead mostly rebels, activists say, AFP/NOW Lebanon July 13, 2012
  9. U.N. team visits Syria site of reported massacre By By Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch, Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2012.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 via Skype to Guardian
  11. Syria crisis: Conflicting reports of Tremseh killingsBBC News, July 15, 2012
  12. [1]Turkish Weekly, July 14, 2012
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Rebels say new Syria massacre has left more than 150 people dead, AFP/The Australian July 13, 2012
  14. [2]By Flavia Krause-Jackson, Bloomberg Business News, July 15, 2012
  15. The Truth of Al-Tremseh Massacre Told by its Residents – Friends of Syria, July 13, 2012
  16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f9D6cDIu0E
  17. 17.0 17.1 Syria: at least 200 killed in Hama province massacre, say activists, Guardian July 13, 2012
  18. 18.0 18.1 Terrorists Overrun al-Treimseh and Perpetrate a Massacre, SANA July 13, 2012
  19. 19.0 19.1 Vesti.Ru reports from Tremseh July 15, 2012, Russian with German transcript
  20. The Armed Forces Carry out "Qualitative Operation" in al-Treimseh and Cause Heavy Losses among Terrorists, SANA July 14, 2012
  21. Youtube Video Syria - Tremseh Massacre: Truth behind the Massacre, July 14, 2012
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Interviews with witnesses/perpetrators published by ANNA-News, July 16, 2012, Arabic with German transcipt, English summaries by SANA here and here
  23. Assad troops move on Damascus as massacre toll is cut, The Independent, July 16, 2012
  24. Syria unrest: 'Massacre leaves 200 dead' in Tremseh, BBC July 12, 2012
  25. Video with phone call, Al Jazeera July 12, 2012
  26. Interview With Abdulbaset Sieda, Transcript Fareed Zakaria GPS, aired July 15