Terrified villagers tell of the horror of Tremseh

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Chilling evidence of Syria's worst atrocity as bodies are packed into mass graves

Beirut

Crammed into the Tremseh village mosque, women and children wailed prayers over row after row of corpses yesterday before the bodies were carried outside, packed into mass graves and buried. Overwhelmed by the scale of the slaughter, the tiny village about 25km outside the city of Hama had run out of traditional white burial shrouds, instead using curtains and tablecloths to wrap the dead.

Videos posted online showed scores of bodies lined up in the mosque. Some purported victims were charred black by fire, another appeared to have had his throat slashed.

What transpired is hazy but, if estimates of as many as 220 victims are confirmed, it would make the massacre that unfolded in this sheep-farming village on the banks of the Orontes River and home to just 9,000 residents the bloodiest atrocity committed by the Syrian regime yet.

Though the death toll may end up overshadowing the 108 killed in the Houla massacre, women and children in Tremseh seem to have escaped largely unharmed. A list of 103 victims confirmed dead by activists and seen by The Independent yesterday included no female names. The UN Arab-League envoy Kofi Annan said he was "shocked and appalled" by the reports of mass killings as the grim details began to emerge on the eve of a crucial UN vote on a resolution to bring an end to the bloodshed. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is pushing for a Chapter 7 resolution at the Security Council which would open the door for military intervention, called for "decisive diplomatic action".

The Syrian government said that 50 people had been killed as troops fought with "terrorists" in an operation which saw large caches of weapons seized.

According to activists, the attack began at dawn on Thursday, when a convoy of 25 military trucks carrying troops, accompanied by three armoured vehicles and flatbeds with heavy artillery, were spotted trundling through the nearby town of Murhada, taking the road west towards the village. Tremseh was surrounded, its electricity cut off and mobile networks jammed to be sure residents had no way of broadcasting news of the massacre that was about to take place.

The army has been engaged in a fierce offensive in the Hama countryside for weeks and many villagers are said to have fled to Tremseh, a Sunni community staunchly against the regime. Colonel Qassim Saadeddine, of the Joint Command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said those families included those of FSA fighters – perhaps one of the reasons the village was targeted so brutally. Others said around 30 defected soldiers lived in the village.

When the shelling began, activists say it was precise. The home of the village's only two doctors were targeted, as were those of defected soldiers. Helicopters picked off those trying to flee. "Some of the wounded gathered in the school, but then that was attacked too," said local activist Manhal.

A team of observers stationed about five kilometres away confirmed the use of heavy weaponry and helicopters in the area by regime troops. After the initial assault, pro-government militias, known as Shabiha, backed by the army, were said to have moved in, terrorising residents as they detained some men and executed others with knives or at gunpoint.

Around 35 FSA fighters tried to fend them off, according to Col Saadeddine, but, outnumbered and outgunned, soon stood down. Abu Adnan, another activist in the area, said the FSA attacked a checkpoint in an attempt to allow civilians an escape route, but failed. "It's unimaginable what's happened there," said one Hama resident whose sister fled from the village with her three children.

"When she arrived for the first few hours she was so afraid and traumatised," he said. "Her children still can barely speak and her husband was arrested by soldiers during the attack."

The stories she reported back were brutal. Yesterday morning, when she visited a neighbour's house destroyed by fire, the air was thick with the smell of burning flesh and inside were two charred corpses. She believes they were locked in and burnt alive.

A local doctor Munsef al-Naji who was found treating two wounded men was dragged outside and shot in the head. "The villagers are still worried that the Shabiha will return," the woman's brother continued. "At the moment we are still desperately trying to get people out. The situation is dire."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions