BEIRUT -- A team of international observers was evacuated Wednesday from a tense town in northern Syria a day after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, a U.N. spokesman said.
The team's vehicles were struck by the blast Tuesday during a mission in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun. None of the observers was wounded, but they had to spend the night with rebel forces in the area. Earlier Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. team, said he had spoken with the observers in Khan Sheikhoun by telephone and that they "told us that they are happy and safe where they are."
Syria-based U.N. spokesman Hassan Seklawi said U.N. members picked up the team around noon Wednesday.
"They left in one convoy in the direction of Hama," Seklawi said referring to a central city south of Khan Sheikhoun.
Tuesday's attack, which came minutes after witnesses said regime forces gunned down mourners at a funeral procession nearby, dealt a fresh blow to international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan and the U.N. effort to monitor compliance with a troubled cease-fire agreement.
Activists said the violence continued Wednesday with regime forces opening fire from the outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said the heavy machine-gun fire has so far prevented people from holding funerals for some of the 20 mourners who were killed at the funeral on Tuesday.
The U.N. said rebel forces had given the observers shelter in the town, which has witnessed anti-government protests since an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March last year.
Ahmad Fawzi, Annan's spokesman, said in a statement that six staff members were "reportedly being treated well" while in rebel hands.
Fawzi said the observers were caught up in the explosion as they met with the rebel Free Syrian Army. He said three vehicles were damaged.
More than 200 U.N. observers have been deployed throughout Syria to monitor the cease-fire agreement, which has been repeatedly violated by both sides since it took effect on April 12.
The bombing was at least the second time the U.N. observers have been caught up in Syria's violence. Last week, a roadside bomb struck a Syrian military truck in the south of the country just seconds after Mood rode by in a convoy.
It was not clear who was behind the blast and no one claimed responsibility.
A video posted by activists online appeared to show the exact moment the U.N. vehicle was struck. The video shows two white vehicles clearly marked "U.N" with people milling around it, and two others parked a few meters (yards) behind. Slippers apparently left behind by the mourners running away from the shooting earlier are seen strewn about on the ground.
The blast blew off the front of the first vehicle and sent up a plume of smoke as people screamed and frantically ran for cover. The four cars are then seen slowly driving away.
It was not clear how close the observers were to the funeral shootings, but if confirmed, a regime attack on civilians directly in front of the observer mission could put pressure on them to describe publicly what they are seeing in Syria. They report back to the U.N. but have not publicized their findings.
Syria's state-run TV, meanwhile, reported Wednesday that authorities released 250 people who were involved in the uprising. Assad has issued several pardons releasing thousands of detainees since the crisis began.
The Observatory also said Syrian forces opened fire at the Naziheen Palestinian refugee camp in the southern city of Daraa, killing four people. The pro-government TV station Ikhbariyah blamed members of "an armed terrorist group," saying they fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the camp, killing a 4-year-old girl and wounding 15 other people.
The Syrian uprising began with mostly peaceful protests calling for change, but a relentless government crackdown led many in the opposition to take up arms. Some soldiers also have switched sides and joined forces with the rebels.
The U.N. estimates the conflict has killed more than 9,000 people.
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|