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U.N. observers find pools of blood at Syrian site

| Saturday, July 14, 2012, 10:14 p.m.

U.N. observers on Saturday investigating a reported mass killing in a Syrian village found pools of blood in homes and spent bullets, mortars and artillery shells, adding details to the emerging picture of what anti-regime activists have called one of the deadliest events of Syria's uprising.

Dozens of people had been buried in a mass grave, and activists are still struggling to determine the total number of people killed in what they say was a violent bombardment by government tanks and helicopters this week.

Some of the emerging details suggested that, rather than the outright bombing of civilians that the opposition has depicted, the violence in Tremseh may have been a lopsided fight between the army pursuing the opposition and activists and locals trying to defend the village.

Nearly all of the dead are men, including dozens of armed rebels. The U.N. observers said the assault appeared to target specific homes of army defectors or opposition figures.

Running tolls ranged from 103 to 152, including dozens of bodies buried in neighboring villages or burned beyond recognition. The activists expected the number to rise since hundreds of residents remain unaccounted for, and locals believe bodies remained in nearby fields or were thrown into the Orontes River.

The Tremseh violence appeared to be one of the bloodiest events in the now 16-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad, in which activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed so far. The new deaths brought intensified international condemnation of his regime, and the Turkish prime minister added his voice to the chorus Saturday.

“These vicious massacres, these attempts at genocide, these inhuman savageries are nothing but the footsteps of a regime that is on its way out,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. “Sooner or later, these tyrants with blood on their hands will go and the people of Syria will in the end make them pay.”

On Saturday, an 11-vehicle team of U.N. observers entered Tremseh, home to between 6,000-10,000 residents and one of a string of small farming villages along the Orontes River northwest of the city of Hama.

Based on its investigation, the team said in a statement that “an attack” took place on July 12. It said the violence seemed to target the homes of army defectors and activists, some of which were burned or damaged and had pooled or splattered blood and bullet casings inside.

The team also found evidence of artillery shells and mortars, which only government troops have, as well as assault rifles, the staple of Syria's rebels.

It did not give a casualty figure but said the team would return Sunday to continue investigating.

Independent verification of the events in nearly impossible in Syria, one of the Middle East's strictest police states.

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