BEIRUT -- Syrian state media said Thursday that anti-regime bomb-makers accidentally set off blasts a day earlier that flattened parts of a residential area in the central city of Hama and killed at least 16 people.
Syrian activists gave a different account, however, and blamed intense shelling by the regime. It was impossible to independently verify the conflicting accounts because President Bashar Assad's regime, facing a 13-month-old uprising, has restricted access for journalists and other outside witnesses.
As the violence in Syria continues despite U.N.-led efforts to implement a cease-fire, the international community is becoming increasingly impatient with the Assad regime. On Wednesday, France raised the prospect of military intervention in Syria, saying the U.N. should consider harsher measures if a peace plan by special envoy Kofi Annan fails.
A prominent activist urged U.N. observers to investigate the blast. A pair of U.N. observers is stationed in Hama, part of an advance team of 15 that is to be beefed up in coming weeks to up to 300.
Amateur videos said to be of Wednesday's incident in Hama showed a large cloud of white and yellow smoke rising from a neighborhood surrounded by green fields. In a later video, dozens of people are searching the debris, including huge chunks of cement and broken cinderblocks. Another clip shows the bloodied body of a little girl being carried through a crowd of wailing men.
The state-run Syrian news agency SANA said rebel bomb-makers mishandling explosives set off a blast that killed at least 16 people and severely damaged at least six houses.
The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists, said the destruction was caused by intense shelling from tanks on the areas. "The area was shelled for a long period," said spokesman Omar Idlibi, denying the blast was triggered accidentally by rebels.
A second group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the cause of the destruction was not immediately clear. The Observatory initially cited reports by local residents that they had come under shelling attack from regime forces.
However, the head of the group, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said he cannot be sure those reports are accurate. Abdul-Rahman called for an investigation by U.N. observers.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Wednesday that France had discussed invoking Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforced militarily, with other world powers. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week the United Nations should move toward such a step to allow for measures like travel and financial sanctions and an arms embargo. She didn't mention military action. The U.S. has for more than a year opposed the further militarization of the situation.
Any such move, however, would likely be blocked by Russia and China, which have twice used their vetoes as permanent Council members to protect Syria from condemnation and remain opposed to military intervention. Western powers, too, don't appear interested in sending forces to another Middle East nation in turmoil.
For now, the international community remains united in support of Annan's plan, which calls for a cease-fire, to be followed by talks between the regime and the opposition on a political solution to the conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people.
That plan, however, has been troubled from the start. Syria has failed to enact key parts of the plan, like withdrawing its forces from cities, and its troops have attacked opposition areas, killing scores of civilians since the truce was to begin on April 12. Rebel fighters, too, have attacked military checkpoints and convoys.
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|