DAMASCUS — Syria’s regime on Sunday denied its forces used tanks and helicopters in an assault on Treimsa, saying what happened in the central village was the result of clashes with rebels and not a “massacre.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said 39 people were killed in Treimsa on Thursday, all but two of them armed men, and that government forces only used light weapons to target five buildings.
Following a visit to Treimsa on Saturday, the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) said heavy weapons were used and several homes were damaged, including five that were burned. It was unable to provide casualty figures.
“Government forces did not use helicopters and tanks,” Makdissi told a news conference in Damascus, adding: “What happened was not an attack by the army on innocent civilians.”
“The aim of this news conference is to tell people that what happened was not a massacre… It was a clash between regular forces and armed groups who do not believe in a peaceful solution. This is the reality, politically and militarily.”
Makdissi staunchly denied reports suggesting that the Syrian army used aircraft in the assault on Treimsa.
“This is absolutely not true. Only troop carriers and lights weapons were used, the most powerful of weapons being RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades),” he said.
The ministry spokesman admitted that “the situation is difficult on the ground” but insisted that Syria is “in a state of defence not in a state of attack.”
A team of UN observers returned on Sunday to Treimsa to pursue their investigations after saying activists and rebels bore the brunt of an army assault that activists say killed more than 150 people.
Citing an unidentified source who claimed to have buried them, however, Makdissi said that “37 armed men were killed and two civilians only.”
In a statement on Saturday, UNSMIS spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said after the obervers’ visit that a “wide range of weapons were used, including artillery, mortars and small arms.”
“The attack on Treimsa appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists. There were pools of blood and blood spatters in rooms of several homes together with bullet cases,” she said.
But Makdissi said “only five buildings where there were very sophisticated weapons were targeted.”
Syria’s military has said already that army had killed “many terrorists” in Treimsa, but no civilians, in a “special operation… targeting armed terrorist groups and their leadership hide-outs.”
The international community has reacted with outrage to the latest killings, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealing for urgent action to stop the bloodshed and urging China — a key ally of Syria — to “influence” President Bashar al-Assad in ending the conflict.