UN 'shocked and appalled' as 200 villagers killed in 'ethnic cleansing'
The chief United Nations observer in Syria urged world powers to settle their differences and show leadership yesterday after the uprising's worst massacre raised fears of ethnic cleansing.
Major General Robert Mood made his appeal as Kofi Annan, the UN envoy to Syria, indicated that he held the Assad regime culpable for the killing of as many as 200 people in the Sunni village of Tremseh.
Mr Annan accused President Bashar al-Assad of breaking a pledge made six days ago to refrain from using heavy weapons after observers reported the use of tanks and helicopter gunships against the village.
"I am shocked and appalled by news coming out of the village of Tremseh and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks and helicopters," said Mr Annan.
Mr Annan also wrote to the UN Security Council to complain that the Syrian government had violated its resolutions persistently.
"Tragically, we now have another grim reminder that the council's resolutions continue to be flouted," his letter said, urging members to warn Mr Assad there would be "consequences" for his non-compliance.
Western politicians expressed their outrage. William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, said it confirmed "an unanswerable case for a tough UN Security Council resolution" that would bring mandatory sanctions.
The circumstances surrounding the bloodshed in the village remained unclear, with rebels and the government both blaming each other.
Tremseh runs along the same sectarian fault line as two other villages -- Houla and Qubeir -- whose Sunni inhabitants were allegedly massacred by militia from Mr Assad's Alawite minority.
Activists said the killings were part of a regime-backed "ethnic cleansing" campaign to wipe out isolated Sunni villages in traditional Alawite territory.
They claimed the killings in Tremseh followed a familiar pattern, with Assad forces shelling the village before loyalist Shabiha militiamen executed survivors.
However, some opposition figures conceded that the slaughter may have been more spontaneous after rebels sheltering in the village ambushed an army convoy, instigating a government counter-attack.
Dozens of the victims were said to be men of fighting age, with far fewer women and children thought to be among the dead than in the previous two massacres.
The rebel Free Syrian Army gave regime officials until the end of the month to defect, or face an assassination campaign.
The regime said that 50 people had died but blamed the killings on "terrorists" and foreign journalists.
"The bloodthirsty media, in collaboration with gangs of armed terrorists, massacred residents of Tremseh village to sway public opinion against Syria and its people," the state-run SANA news agency said.
With efforts to secure a hard-hitting resolution continuing to meet Russian opposition, Maj Gen Mood called for an end to antagonism.
"For the sake of the Syrian people, we now need genuine and effective leadership from the Security Council," he said.
The Syrian opposition also urged the world to unite.
For the first time, the Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential single opposition party, said it held Mr Annan partially to blame for the killings.
"The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria do no consider Bashar the Beast the only one responsible for this horrific massacre," a statement said.
"Responsibility for this and for previous massacres also lies with Annan, with the Russians and the Iranians, and all those states which claim they are protecting peace and stability and yet stay silent and skulk away from taking any responsibility." (© Daily Telegraph, London)