Mass Killing Makes For One Of Syria's Bloodiest Days

There has been another mass killing in central Syria where estimates of the dead range from 40 people to more than 200. United Nations monitors confirm Syrian government forces bombarded a village near Hama. Syrian activists say after the shelling, militiamen from the Alawite sect moved in, killing dozens of Sunni villagers.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. There has been another mass killing in Syria. Anti-government activists say more than 200 people may have been killed in one of the worst days of bloodshed since the uprising began almost 16 months ago.

United Nations monitors confirm that the Syrian army shelled a village in the central province of Hama. Activists say, after that bombardment, pro-government militiamen moved in, killing many more villagers.

NPR's Deborah Amos is in neighboring Turkey. Earlier today, she spoke with a survivor who managed to escape across the border.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: He survived what many are calling a massacre in the farming village of Tremseh. The shelling started before the village was even awake, 5:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. Houses collapsed, people started dying, says Abu Ahmar(ph), who says he's a medic in the town. The village of 10,000 people was devastated.

ABU AHMAR: (Through translator) Wooden structured houses. There is a lot of dead bodies on the ground. They didn't distinguish between old people or babies or children and women.

AMOS: He hid through a bombardment that lasted for hours. He got one call out to the U.N. monitors and begged them to come to Tremseh. They said they were stopped at an army checkpoint. After the shelling, says Abu Ahmar, the Shabiha arrived, the pro-government militia who came to loot and burn and kill.

AHMAR: (Through translator) With my own eyes, I seen the way they drug people out of their houses. They demolished the house completely and they executed them on the ground.

AMOS: The government blamed terrorist gangs for the violence in Tremseh, but the head of the U.N. mission in Damascus contradicted that claim, saying government forces attacked from the air and from the ground. The U.N. envoy, Kofi Annan, also singled out the government's use of heavy weapons in civilian areas. The more chilling violence wasn't the distant army shelling, but the up-close murders by the armed gangs, the Shabiha, and what appears to be a sectarian-motivated attack.

Tremseh is a Sunni Muslim village surrounded by Christian and Alawite communities.

AHMAR: (Through translator) Some of the Shabiha are known.

AMOS: These are your neighbors, so you know them?

AHMAR: (Through translator) Their faces (unintelligible) like I've seen them before. I've seen them before.

AMOS: The killers are Alawite, says Abu Ahmar, and he listed villages where the killers are from. He's one of the few survivors to make it to Turkey, a trip of 50 miles that took him almost 24 hours.

The army offensive against Tremseh seems to be part of a wider military campaign to crush the rebels challenging the government as Syria spirals into a sectarian war with any hope for a diplomatic solution moving further out of reach.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Antakya.

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