More than 200 people, mostly civilians, were massacred when Syrian government forces shelled and stormed a village on Thursday in the restive central area of Hama, opposition activists said.
Abu Omar, a military official of the Free Syrian Army in Hama, told DPA that the village of Tremseh, mainly a Sunni areas, was heavily shelled and stormed by government forces carrying out executions inside the village.
“More than 220 people were killed, and some 300 others were wounded,” Mr. Abu Omar said.
Syrian state television said three security personnel were killed during the fighting in Teraymissha and accused “armed terrorist groups” of committing a massacre there.
A villager who managed to escape the area told Al Jazeera that Alawite militiamen, who strongly support the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, entered after Syrian rebels retreated from the area and committed the massacre. The survivor said that houses and even mosques were set ablaze by the government forces.
Free Syrian Army chief Riad Al-Assad urged all Syrians to observe a general strike on Friday to denounce the massacre.
If confirmed, the massacre would be the deadliest since the uprising erupted in March 2011. Seventy eight people were shot or stabbed dead on June 6, 2012 in the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir, while 108 men, women and children were massacred on May 25, 2012 in the town of Houla.
The new massacre allegation came as the United Nations Security Council met for a first round of discussion on separate draft resolutions on Syria, submitted by Russia and Western nations.
Russia’s draft proposes a 90-day extension for UN military observers in Syria. The Western proposal offers a 45-day extension with sanctions within 10 days if Damascus fails to end the violence.
Diplomats attending the closed-door discussion said the council was expected to vote next week to extend the three-month observer mission, which expires on July 20, 2012.
Observers say that any proposal to sanction Syria is likely to be vetoed by Russia and China, which are key allies of Mr. Assad.
Syria said that Nawaf Fares, the senior diplomat who defected to the opposition this week, has been “discharged” from his post for making statements that “run counter to his job,” the SANA state news agency reported.
Mr. Fares, a long-time official of Syria’s ruling Baath party who served as the country’s ambassador to Iraq from 2008, urged other officials and the military to revolt against al—Assad’s regime.
“Turn your guns and tanks toward the criminals in the regime who are killing the people of Syria,” he told the Syrian Army in a video aired by Al Jazeera, a day after he announced his defection.
Mr. Fares is now in Qatar, according to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who called the defection “a surprise to us — he was a supporter of the regime,” the Iraqi website Alsumariya News quoted Mr. Zebari as saying.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the latest defection showed that desperation “is enveloping the Assad regime.” “We are seeing daily now more and more indications that Assad is losing his grip, that those around him, both in his inner circle and more broadly in the military and governmental leadership, are beginning to assess Assad’s chances of remaining in power and ... making the choice that they will abandon him in favour of the Syrian people,” Carney said.
The defection of Mr. Fares, who comes from the eastern area of Deir al-Zour that has been regularly bombarded by government forces, follows last week’s desertion by Major General Manaf Tlass from Mr. Assad’s inner circle.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that Maj. Gen. Tlass was in contact with the Syrian opposition.
In Brussels, the E.U. commissioner responsible for regional policy, Stefan Fule, said the death toll in Syria has reached 17,000 since the conflict started in March 2011. He told an event on human rights in Syria that around 67,000 people have disappeared and more than 200,000 have been placed in arbitrary detentions there.