By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, June 27 (Reuters) - Syrian government forces have committed human rights violations, including executions, across the country "on an alarming scale" during military operations in the past three months, United Nations investigators said on Wednesday.
Their report, presented by investigation head Paulo Pinheiro to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, also listed multiple killings and kidnappings by armed opposition groups trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
"The situation on the ground is dangerously and quickly deteriorating," the 20-page report said.
"In the increasingly militarised context, human rights violations are occuring across the country on an alarming scale during military operations against locations believed to be hosting defectors and/or those perceived as affiliated with anti-government armed groups, including the Free Syrian Army," it said.
Syria's ambassador dismissed the accusations and threatened to end cooperation with international agencies.
The investigation's report also said it was unable to determine who carried out a massacre of more than 100 people in Houla in May but that forces loyal to Assad may have carried out many of the killings.
Government troops were using machine guns, artillery and tanks to assault restive areas, including the city of Homs. For their part the rebel forces were increasingly using improvised explosive devices, it said.
The U.N. investigators voiced concern that rebels were using children as medical porters, messengers and cooks, exposing them to risk of death and injury. Some had been going back and forth across the border with Turkey, they said, citing interviews with four who had been wounded by sniper fire.
Pinheiro, who made a first visit to Damascus at the weekend for talks with senior Syrian officials, presented the report to the U.N. Human Rights Council which set up the international inquiry last September.
The Brazilian expert had discussed the Houla investigation with Syrian authorities and believed that the team would be able to begin working inside Syria, he told the 47-member forum.
Syria's ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui took the floor in the debate to dismiss the accusations as being based on testimony from people fleeing justice and "tendentious media".
"All sides recognise now that the crisis is not attributable to peaceful demonstrations and legitimate demands for reform. The crisis in Syria is a genuine war," Khabbaz Hamoui said.
Denouncing the meeting as politicised, he said: "This all induces us to seriously consider ceasing all forms of cooperation with agencies concerned as long as they are powerless to provide a constructive solution to the problems."
Russian diplomat Vassily Nebenzia, whose country is Assad's main defender, said that Syrian militants were carrying out daily attacks on state institutions and infrastructure and killing civilians.
"A war of minds and bombs is taking place. Gunmen have been carrying out terrorist acts on Syrian cities. Such activities by gunmen and terrorists is being fed with money and weapons from abroad," he said.
Western powers called for Pinheiro's commission to be given "full and unfettered accesss" to Syria immediately.
"The evidence is introvertible. The Assad regime is waging a brutal campaign against the Syrian people, characterised by aerial bombardment, mass killings, rape and other atrocities," U.S. ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said in her speech.
The U.N. team, which conducted nearly 400 interviews, said it had collected photographs, videos, satellite imagery and other documentary evidence during its recent investigative missions in the region.
It was updating its list of identified perpetrators for possible use in future criminal prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"The commission's work is indispensable in view of ensuring that those responsible for widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations be held to account," the European Union's ambassador Mariangela Zappia said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
BEFORE YOU GO
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
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.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
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.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
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.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded 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. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
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)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
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.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
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
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS