World Bulletin / News Desk
Syria denied on Sunday accusations by special envoy Kofi Annan that it used heavy weapons or helicopters in clashes in the village of Tremseh last week, saying his comments about the fighting, which activists called a massacre, were "rushed".
Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for Syria's Foreign Ministry, said security forces killed 37 fighters and two civilians in a campaign against the town in central Hama, from which the government said rebels were launching attacks on other areas.
Activists' estimates of the death toll ranges from 100 to 220, many of them whole families in the village of Tremseh, where United Nations monitors say there was heavy fighting on Thursday.
"Government forces did not use planes, or helicopters, or tanks or artillery. The heaviest weapon used was an RPG (rocket propelled grenade)," Makdissi told reporters at a news conference in Damascus.
"What happened was not a massacre ... what happened was a military operation. They were clashes between security forces, whose duty is to defend civilians, and heavily armed forces that don't believe in a political solution."
Syria has become mired in a bloody revolt against President Bashar al-Assad that is now in its seventeenth month. Some foreign officials now say the uprising that began as street protests has morphed into a civil war.
So far, video published by activists said to be from the small village has shown blood drenched and burned corpses of young men, who could have been rebel fighters.
"Defence, not attack"
Special envoy Annan, who is leading efforts to implement a peace initiative in Syria, said on Friday that Syria had violated its commitments to U.N.-backed peace efforts.
"I am shocked and appalled by news coming out of the village of Tremseh, near Hama, of intense fighting, significant casualties, and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks and helicopters," he said in a statement.
"This is in violation of the government's undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and its commitment to the six-point plan."
Makdissi rejected Annan's accusations, which were repeated in a letter sent to Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem
"The least that can be said about this letter about what happened in Tremseh is that it did not rely on facts. As diplomatically as possible, we say that this letter was very rushed," the spokesman said.
Makdissi said statements on Saturday from a group of United Nations observers sent to Tremseh confirmed Syria's version of events. The group said the violence appeared to be attacks targeting rebels and opposition activists.
But their report also said artillery and mortars were used, and the head of the monitoring mission said a day earlier that monitors in the province had reported use of helicopters and indiscriminate fire.
Makdissi said accusations of a fierce attack were implausible given the tiny size of the village.
"Everything that has been said on the use of heavy weapons in an assault on a village no bigger than 1 km squared is completely untrue," he said, denying that villagers were targeted. "We are in a state of self-defence, not a state of attack."
The latest round of attacks on Syria has compelled Qatar to request an emergency meeting to discuss the air raids on Aleppo
The Assad regime – with Russian support – has continued to target opposition-held areas of Syria's northwestern Aleppo province with fresh strikes killing 7 people
Key issues will be discussed in face to face peace talks between Yemen's warring parties
Unofficial, incomplete results from Iran's parliamentary runoff election show 33 to 40 of the 68 seats being contested went to allies of President Hassan Rouhani
Russia's state-run TASS reports US and Russia agree on 72-hour cease-fire in Latakia starting just after midnight Saturday
Syria’s Kurdish National Council slams PYD parading dead bodies of FSA fighters as 'brutal and barbaric'
'The violence is soaring back to the levels we saw prior to the cessation of hostilities,' UN human rights chief says
'This announcement came after a request from the Americans and the Russians, who met in Geneva to calm down the situation in Damascus and Latakia'
In the first four months of the year, authorities deported 14,400 expats, compared with 26,600 in the whole of 2015
Russian and Syrian warplanes have intensified attacks against civilians in Aleppo’s opposition-controlled areas
'The persistent failure of the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court is an example of the most shameful form of realpolitik,' Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein says
Iranians has begun voting on Friday in a second round of parliamentary elections with allies of President Hassan Rouhani seeking to wrest seats from hardliners.
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Jassim al-Thani proposes free trade agreement involving Turkey and Arab countries
'l could not in any way express how high the stakes are in the next hours and days,' head of UN humanitarian efforts says
'It's no secret that the Syrian army has prepared this decisive battle with its allies. It will not take long to begin, nor to finish,' a pro-regime daily says