Syria Forces Said to Kill 52 Civilians in Latest Violence

Syrian security forces were blamed for the deaths of dozens people as clashes persisted three days after what has been called one of the bloodiest massacres in the country’s 17-month conflict.

Syrian forces killed 52 civilians, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Five people, including a pregnant woman, died during government shelling of the central city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a separate statement. At least five soldiers died in the fighting there, according to the U.K.-based group.

The international community has failed to put an end to the conflict, which the opposition says has left more than 17,000 Syrians dead. International pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s government must continue, French President Francois Hollande said yesterday in a televised interview.

The UN Security Council will vote July 18 in New York on a Western-drafted resolution threatening Assad with measures such as sanctions. The three-month mandate for the UN’s Syrian mission expires July 20.

Syrian forces in tanks surrounded the village of Tremseh, in Hama province, on July 12 and bombed the area before entering and killing civilians, Abdulbaset Sieda, president of the opposition Syrian National Council, said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” according to a transcript of the interview scheduled for broadcast today.

Message of Terror

“The objective behind this massacre is to send a message of terror to the citizens and push the country toward a civil war between factions,” Sieda said.

The opposition group said as many as 305 people were killed in the assault on the Sunni Muslim village, some as they tried to flee the town. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates more than 150 people died when government forces stormed the village.

“Dozens were summarily executed,” the group said. “Some were killed by knives, blunt objects. Some of those killed were from neighboring villages.” The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, citing an unidentified military official, said the deaths were the result of a clash between security forces and “terrorist” groups after local residents called for help.

A UN peacekeeping team arrived in Tremseh July 13 after learning there was a cease-fire. UN observers reported that the attack appeared to target specific groups, mainly army defectors and activists.

Pools of Blood

The UN Supervision Mission in Syria said the observers found pools of blood and splattered blood in several homes, as well as a burned school and damaged homes. It couldn’t determine the number of casualties, and plans to return to the village today.

The UN mission said in a statement it is “deeply concerned about the escalating level of violence in Syria and calls on the government to cease the use of heavy weapons on population centers and on the parties to put down their weapons and choose the path of non-violence for the welfare of the Syrian people who have suffered enough.”

Efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict have put the U.S. and its European allies at odds with Russia. The Western nations signaled they won’t support an extension of a UN observer mission in Syria unless real pressure is put on Assad. Their draft proposes a 45-day extension. Russia proposed July 10 an alternative resolution that would extend the monitors’ stay for 90 days.

Turkey’s Warning

Turkey’s prime minister warned Syria’s leaders that the Syrian people will “make them pay” for killings by government forces, the Associated Press reported. Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the violence as “the footsteps of a regime that is on its way out,” AP said.

Sieda said that his group met with Russian officials for more than three hours.

“We found that the Russian point of view is still the same,” he said. “We hope they change their position because things cannot continue as they are right now in Syria.”

He said that Western nations, including the United States, should work through the Security Council. If that doesn’t succeed, he said, the U.S. and other countries “can move outside the scope of the Security Council,” without providing further details.

A call to the mobile phone of Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar to seek comment on yesterday’s reported incidents wasn’t answered.

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