By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press
GENEVA -- The violence in Syria has matched or exceeded levels from before the April ceasefire agreement, the United Nations said Wednesday, as it suggested that government troops could be behind the killing of more than 100 civilians in the village of Houla last month.
Reflecting the sense of urgency, senior diplomats said world powers would meet Saturday in an attempt to end the bloodshed, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov being joined by other top diplomats from U.N. Security Council nations and possibly neighbors of Syria.
The U.N.'s deputy envoy for Syria, Jean-Marie Guehenno, told the U.N. Human Rights Council that the violence in Syria has "reached or even surpassed" levels seen before the April 12 ceasefire agreement and that a six-point peace plan forged by his boss, U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, "is clearly not being implemented."
Meanwhile, a U.N. probe into the massacre in the central Syrian village of Houla concluded that forces loyal to the government "may have been responsible" for many of the deaths.
The report by U.N.-appointed human rights experts says the military or pro-government shabiha forces had better access to the Houla village during the May massacre. The village leans toward opposition support and most of the victims were women and children who were slaughtered in their homes, it said.
The head of the expert team, Brazilian professor and diplomat Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told the U.N.'s top human rights body in Geneva that "the manner in which these killings took place resembles those previously and repeatedly documented to have been committed by the government" but that a final verdict on who was responsible for the massacre would require further investigation by his team.
Fayssal al-Hamwi, a Syrian ambassador in Geneva, charged that the allegations against the government are "quite fantastic."
The increasing militarization of both sides in the conflict has Syria lurching toward civil war. The failure of Annan's internationally brokered peace plan has made it more difficult for outside observers, humanitarian workers and supplies to get in, or reliable information to filter out.
Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March last year.
U.N. officials said they were preparing to send out invitations and expected to make an announcement later Wednesday on the Saturday meeting. Guehenno, a former U.N. peacekeeping chief, said the Syrian government and rebel groups must be made to understand that there are "consequences" to failure to implement the six-point plan.
"But this effort cannot be open-ended. Time is running out. Syria is spiraling into deeper and more destructive violence," he said.
Russia and the United States have both said they want to help Annan. But Russia and China, two of the Security Council's five permanent members, have twice shielded Syria from U.N. sanctions.
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans 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|