Conflicting Tales In Latest Syrian Violence

Although videos posted by Syrian activists show dozens of people buried in a mass grave in the village of Tremseh, Syria has rejected claims made by the United Nations that it used heavy weapons in the attack alleged to have taken place on Thursday. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz speaks with NPR's Deborah Amos who is watching the story from Turkey.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

A remote farming village in central Syria has become the latest focus of extreme violence and competing narratives. What happened in the Sunni Muslim village of Tremseh, a massacre or a military operation? A U.N. monitoring team went there to find out.

NPR's Deborah Amos is following the story from the Turkish city of Antakya right over the border from Syria. And, Deb, let's talk for a moment about those competing narratives. Who says what?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: When the news first broke, we heard from anti-government activists who said that more than 200 civilians had been killed in Tremseh. It was a massacre. They have revised that story, and what they say now is that this was a base for rebels and that they were the target of this army offensive. The government account is completely different. They say this was an anti-terrorist operation, no civilians were killed, and no heavy weapons were used.

RAZ: What did the U.N. monitors find out?

AMOS: The U.N. monitors were sitting outside of Tremseh when this all took place. They were held up at a checkpoint. They heard and saw these heavy weapons. That has been consistently in all of their reports. They were there again today, and this time, they saw 50 buildings that were burned. They said this was a targeted attack on rebels and on activists.

RAZ: Deb, initially, we heard reports of a new massacre, a new civilian massacre in this village. And, of course, everybody was thinking about the massacre in Houla that happened earlier this summer, but that does not appear to be the case in Tremseh.

AMOS: I think that the details vary. There have been three mass killings over the past couple of months. And in each case, what we have seen is a Sunni Muslim village surrounded by Alawite villages. These three villages are actually quite close to each other where these mass killings took place. This area is on the sectarian divide in Syria.

What you learn from the U.N. report is that heavy weapons were used, buildings were burned, the army came in afterwards, and they went house to house and asked men for their IDs. The villagers there allege that those men were killed after the army looked at their IDs, and they were targeted for the attack by the army.

RAZ: That's NPR's Deborah Amos reporting for us from Antakya along the Syria-Turkey border. Deb, thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you.

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