The government in Damascus has said it only used light weapons in an attack on the village of Tremseh, also saying that 37 'terrorists' and two civilians were killed. Opposition groups put the toll at around 200.
United Nations monitors returned to the village of Tremseh on Sunday to continue their investigation as the Syrian foreign ministry disputed opposition accounts of what happened in the north-western village.
Rights activists had said that between 150 and 200 people, mostly civilians, were killed after government forces shelled the area and then let militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad move in.
"What happened in Tremseh was that armed gangs attacked the village and turned it into a center of terrorist operations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi told a press conference in Damascus. "Government forces used no tanks, airplanes, helicopters or artillery … they used light weapons, the heaviest of which were rocket-propelled grenades."
UN observers first entered Tremseh, in Hama province, on Saturday. A spokeswoman for the mission, Sausan Ghosheh, issued an initial report Saturday saying that "an attack, using a variety of weapons" struck Tremseh on Thursday, July 12.
"The attack on Tremseh appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists. Three were pools of blood and blood splatters in rooms of several houses together with bullet cases," Ghosheh said. Her initial report said that artillery, mortars and small arms had been used in the attack, contradicting Makdisi's subsequent statement.
Ticking clock at Security Council
UN diplomats are scrambling on a fresh Security Council resolution on Syria, with the existing observer mission's mandate set to expire on Friday. Western countries have advocated further sanctions against the Assad regime as a part of any new resolution, while Russia - considered Syria's closest major ally - has suggested a deal simply extending the observer mission by a further 90 days.
UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan heads to Russia on Monday for talks with leaders in Moscow, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon travels to Beijing. Russia and China have both opposed past draft resolutions that would have condemned the Assad regime.
Annan was scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, and then President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
msh/pfd (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)