Syrian troops attack Masjid, 30 feared dead
AMMAN | Tue Jul 24, 2012 3:49pm EDT
(Reuters) - Syrian troops killed up to 30 worshippers as they were entering a Masjid to attend Ramadan evening prayers in a village northwest of the city of Hama, opposition activists said on Tuesday.
"Troops and shabbiha (militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad) left the roadblock on the edge of Shariaa and crossed the main road and began firing automatic rifles at the worshippers as they were entering the Masjid," Jamil al-Hamwi, one of the activists, said by telephone from al-Ghab Plain.
"We have confirmed the names for 15 bodies and it is estimated there is a similar number still to be collected from the streets," Hamwi, who uses a pseudonym for safety reasons, said.
The roadblock was manned by troops backed by tanks as well as militiamen recruited from Alawite villages near Shariaa, he added. Assad belongs to the same (Alawite) minority sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
A statement by the Hama Revolutionary Council said: "The village Masjid has 15 bodies (in it) so far. Transport of the dead and wounded is ongoing. The streets are strewn with bodies."
It was impossible to confirm the report immediately. Syrian authorities have banned most independent media from the country.
(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
Egypt's ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman dies in United States
Omar Suleiman was one of ex-President Mubarak's most trusted allies
Omar Suleiman, who for years headed Egyptian intelligence under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, has died in the USA.
He died in hospital in the early hours of Thursday, the official news agency Mena reported.
Gen Suleiman, who was in his seventies, was appointed vice-president by Mubarak in the last days of his rule.
He made a bid to stand for president in this year's election but was disqualified for technical reasons.
Correspondents say he was seen as an enigmatic figure both inside and outside Egypt, and played a behind-the-scenes role in issues such as relations with the US and israel.
Continue reading the main story
In a statement, Egypt's interim government paid tribute to Suleiman, calling him a "patriotic, honest figure".
An assistant to Gen Suleiman said his death was unexpected.
"He was fine. It came suddenly while he was having medical tests in Cleveland," Hussein Kamal told Reuters news agency, adding that preparations were under way to take the body home for burial.
Reem Mamdouh, a member of Suleiman's presidential campaign team, told AFP that the general's health had been declining.
"His health deteriorated recently. He was in the United States with his family," he said.
State news agency Mena quoted a diplomat as saying he had been suffering from lung disease and had also developed heart problems.
Gen Suleiman headed the Egyptian General Intelligence Services (Egis) for 18 years.
He became the country's first vice-president in 30 years on 29 January 2011, four days after the popular uprising against Mubarak began.
Two weeks later, he appeared on state television to announce the long-time president had stepped down, prompting celebrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square - the focus of Egypt's protest movement.
TroubleshooterContinue reading the main story
A career in the miltary
Born 1935 in Qena
Joined army in 1954
Fought in 1962 Yemen conflict and Arab-israeli wars of 1967 and 1973
Named director of the General Intelligence Department in 1993
Appointed vice-president 29 January 2011
Disqualified as presidential candidate in April 2012
Profile: Omar Suleiman
After failing to win enough signatures to stand in Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential vote earlier this year, he left the country, reportedly going to Abu Dhabi, then to Germany, then finally to the US for treatment.
The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says Omar Suleiman was a key figure behind the presidency of Hosni Mubarak.
As spy chief, Gen Suleiman helped enforce the police state that kept Mubarak in power, he says.
He is believed to have indirectly saved Mubarak's life, advising him to take an armoured car on a state visit to Ethiopia in 1995 - his convoy was ambushed by Islamists.
Syria unrest: 'Massacre leaves 200 dead' in Tremseh
Unverified footage said to show residents of Tremseh fleeing the artillery bombardment Continue reading the main story
Syria killings: What we know
'Taking Syria to Hell'
Who are the shabiha?
Guide: Syria Crisis
Some 200 people have been killed in an attack on the Syrian village of Tremseh, opposition activists say.
If confirmed, it would be the bloodiest single event in the Syrian conflict.
Residents said the village, in Hama province, was attacked with helicopter gunships and tanks, and later by the pro-government Shabiha militia, who carried out execution-style killings.
State media blamed "terrorist groups" who were trying to raise tension ahead of a key UN Security Council meeting.
The mandate for the UN's observer mission to Syria expires on 20 July.
UN observers are now trying to get to Tremseh to investigate the killings.
UN and Arab League special envoy for Syria Kofi Annan said he was "shocked and appalled" by the news from Tremseh, adding that it was "desperately urgent that this violence and brutality stops".
Some 16,000 people are thought to have been killed since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad's regime began in March 2011.
Individual reports of casualties often cannot be independently verified, as Syria severely restricts journalists' freedom of movement.
Reports suggest the army was trying to take back Tremseh after it had fallen into rebel hands.
The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says both sides agreed many people were killed in Tremseh, but have totally different versions of what happened.Continue reading the main story
Syria's massacres 2012
3 Feb: At least 55 killed in Homs in month-long bombardment by military
3 Apr: Military attack on Taftanaz in Idlib. Mass graves said to hold 57 people
25 May: Some 108 killed in Taldou, in Houla region, many of them women and children
6 Jun: At least 79 people, many of them women and children, killed in village in Hama province
Timeline: Syria's massacres
Activists say government forces surrounded the village on Thursday morning and heavily bombarded it for several hours, killing many people.
Pro-government militias from nearby Alawite villages then moved in, they said, killing many more villagers and setting fire to houses. Others who tried to flee through fields were also gunned down, the activists said.
One activist, named Ahmed, told Reuters: "So far, we have 20 victims recorded with names and 60 bodies at a Masjid. There are more bodies in the fields, bodies in the rivers and in houses... People were trying to flee from the time the shelling started and whole families were killed trying to escape."
Activists have posted a video they say shows the bodies of a number of men and boys killed in Tremseh.
Our correspondent says UN observers are talking to both sides in the conflict so that they can move from their base in Hama to Tremseh to investigate the killings.
The head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (Unsmis), Maj Gen Robert Mood, said: "Unsmis stands ready to go in and seek verification of facts if and when there is a credible ceasefire."
Protests condemning the attack have been reported in Damascus, Idlib and Hama.
State media said gunmen from what they termed armed terrorist groups had attacked the village in the morning, shooting dead dozens of people.
The Sana news agency said on Friday: "The bloodthirsty media in collaboration with gangs of armed terrorists massacred residents of Tremseh village... to sway public opinion against Syria and its people and provoke international intervention on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting."
Western nations are pressing the UN to threaten Syria with sanctions as it considers renewing the mandate for its observer mission in Syria.
They want a 10-day ultimatum to be part of a Security Council resolution on the future of the mission. A new resolution must be passed before the mission's mandate ends next Friday.
China and Russia continue to oppose any moves to threaten Damascus with further sanctions ahead of the deadline.
The mission had a 90-day remit to monitor a truce, but fighting has continued largely unabated.
The truce formed part of a six-point peace plan brokered by Mr Annan, who has called for "clear consequences" for the Syrian government and rebels if the ceasefire is not observed.
Mr Annan is to travel to Moscow early next week for talks on the Syria crisis, Russian media say.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal on Thursday quoted intelligence reports as suggesting that Syria was moving its chemical weapons, amid fears the government could use them against rebels or civilians.
US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the international community would hold accountable any Syrian officials who failed to safeguard the stockpiles.
BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the Syrian transfer could be an attempt at safe storage or may mark an even more deadly phase in the conflict.