Syria Conflict: Unraveling the Tremseh Massacre

At least 100 people were killed earlier this month in the small Syrian village of Tremseh. While activists quickly labeled it the Tremseh massacre, later reports have suggested it was something different.

NPR’s Kelly McEvers spent a week with rebel fighters in Syria, discovering more details about the killings. The facts are still fuzzy surrounding the incident in Tremseh, considering activists have not released all of the names of the dead. Those that have been released appear to be fighting-age men.

McEvers writes that she met a Spanish photographer on her journey, named Daniel Leal Olivas, who had just returned from Tremseh. Olivas showed them pictures of the massacre, and told them:

“The first thing I remember is that it’s a very small town. Another thing is everyone was in the street.”

McEvers writes that, “Women and children were standing in front of their houses crying, as if they had just gotten back into town, Olivas says. The men grabbed him by the arm and dragged him into a house.” Olivas told them:

“We found a toilet room, and … that toilet room was full of blood,” he says. “They told us, ‘We found here bodies, executed.'”

Olivas told them it also looked like houses were specifically targeted. McEvers writes:

“…they didn’t burn indiscriminately, he says. Instead, it looked like the killers knew exactly what their targets were. On any given street, one house would be burned, riddled with bullet holes and covered in blood. Other houses were left untouched.”

The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss believes that, because most of the men who died in the Tremseh massacre were Sunni men between 19 and 36, it was simply a very gruesome battle. Dreyfuss notes that it is not a surprising find, since the conflict in Syria is essentially a civil war. He writes that:

“As the Times points out, details are murky, and there’s no doubt that some atrocities occurred. But it certainly seems not to have been the massacre of unarmed, protesting civilians that the United States and the Syrian rebels claimed it to have been.”

He also believes that the events in Tremseh show that there is no justification for Western intervention in Syria, but that the U.S. needs to urge its allies to back off and start seeking a diplomatic solution, which could very well leave parts of President Bashar al-Assad’s government intact, including Assad himself.

Radio Free Europe notes that Syria’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Madkissi vehemently denied reports that government troops used aircraft in their July 12th attack on Tremseh. Madkissi maintained that the most powerful weapons used in the conflict were rocket-propelled grenades. He stated:

“Government forces did not use planes or helicopters or tanks or artillery. Everything that was said about using artillery to attack a one-square-kilometer village was not true. We know the goal of such claims and their timing with the discussions in the Security Council. They want additional [arguments] to counter the wise Russian efforts in the Security Council.”

UN observers who traveled to Syria’s Tremseh village two days after the alleged massacre described evidence of brutal fighting, which targeted political opponents and military defectors. A spokeswoman for the UN Syria mission, told Reuters on July 15, Sausan Ghosheh, stated:

“We can confirm that there was a military operation on July, 12. The attacks appeared targeted toward specific homes of activists as well as army defectors. Our UN team there observed homes which had pools of blood and blood splatters in some of the rooms as well as empty bullet cases. There was a wide range of weapons used, including heavy weapons and artillery, mortar, and small arms.”

Do you believe that there really was a Tremseh massacre, or was it simply an extremely bloody clash between Syrian and rebel troops?

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