BEIRUT — Syrian troops shelled and raided opposition areas and clashed with rebel fighters around the country Thursday despite U.N. efforts to stop the bloodshed so aid could reach suffering civilians.
Activists cited the fresh violence in dismissing a U.N. Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire to allow for dialogue between all sides on a political solution. The government of President Bashar Assad also played down the statement, saying Damascus is under no threats or ultimatums.
Mounting international condemnation of Assad's regime and high-level diplomacy have failed to ease the year-old Syria conflict, which the U.N. says has killed more than 8,000 people. Activists reported dozens of people killed Thursday including at least 12 government soldiers.
The Syrian uprising began last March with protests calling for political reforms. Unrest spread as Assad's forces violently tried to quash dissent, and many in the opposition took up arms to defend their towns and attack government troops.
"Civil strife of the sort we are seeing in Syria can destroy whole societies," U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Malaysia Thursday. Ban reiterated the statement approved by the U.N. Security Council's 15 members the day before, which sought to send a unified message on the conflict.
The statement endorsed a six-point plan by joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, which includes a cease-fire by Syrian forces, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate injured people and provide humanitarian aid and inclusive talks about a political solution.
Western countries have been pushing for Security Council action for months, but Russia and China have twice vetoed stronger resolutions that criticized the regime. Wednesday's presidential statement becomes part of the council's permanent record but is not legally binding.
To gain Russian and Chinese support, France watered down the text, removing clauses that could be seen as opening the door for sanctions or military action.
Russia and China have called previous resolutions unbalanced for blaming the conflict solely on the government, and Russian officials worry a strongly worded resolution could allow for military intervention against Assad, as happened in Libya last year.
Russia's deputy foreign minister said Thursday that Annan will visit Moscow in the coming days. Mikhail Bogdanov also said Russia will receive a delegation from the National Coordination Committee, a Syrian opposition group.
The U.S. and Europe have called on Assad to step down but have said they will not intervene militarily. While Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya have spoken positively of arming the rebels, no country is openly doing so.
Syria's state-run news agency played down the U.N. statement Thursday, saying there are no threats or ultimatums against Damascus. This echoed an earlier statement by Russia.
Activists in Syria dismissed the statement as too late and impossible to implement since Syrian forces have surrounded entire towns and villages and regularly shell civilian areas.
"Is there any way the army will remove its checkpoints for two hours?" said Fadi al-Yassin via satellite phone from the northern province of Idlib. "All of that is empty talk, politics, and we've gotten fed up with all of these decisions."
Many activists say they've grown frustrated with what they see as international resistance to act.
Activist groups said Syrian forces were stepping up their assaults on opposition areas around the country Thursday, often sparking clashes with local rebels.
Regime forces shelled the Arbaeen neighborhood in the central city of Hama and clashed with rebels while trying to enter the northern town of Sarmeen.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 people, half of them women and children, were killed when troops fired on a bus taking them from the town. Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, said 13 died in the attack on a bus taking the group to a refugee camp in across the border in Turkey. It also reported deaths in government attacks in the central cities of Homs and Hama, putting the nationwide toll at 59.
The Syrian government has barred most media from working in the country and activist claims could not be independently verified.
The Observatory said troops shot dead three civilians in the town of al-Qusair near the border with Lebanon.
Human Rights Watch accused the government of serious abuses against the town's civilian population in recent weeks, saying its forces had shelled residential neighborhoods, posted snipers of rooftops and attacked residents as they fled.
The New York-based group said Thursday that the town lacks food, water, medical services and suffers a near blackout of its communications.
Reflecting the growing militarization of the conflict, rebels killed at least 12 soldiers in attacks on checkpoints and convoys Thursday, the Observatory said.
Syria's rebels are outgunned by Assad's large, professional army but have opted for insurgent attacks on military targets.
The Syrian government cites the rise in such attacks to boost its argument that the uprising is being carried out by terrorist groups acting out a foreign conspiracy.
Associated Press writer Eileen Ng in Putrajaya, Malaysia, contributed to this report.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|