Syria denied its armed forces carried out a massacre in Treimsa but said 37 gunmen and two civilians were killed in clashes there with rebels, as UN investigators returned to the village on Sunday.
Rights activists say more than 150 people were massacred in Treimsa, which if confirmed would make it one of the bloodiest episodes of Syria's 16-month uprising. Even so, it has already galvanised diplomatic efforts.
Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon head for Russia and China on Monday to press the two UN Security Council doubters to back tougher action against President Bashar al-Assad to halt the slaughter in Syria.
The visits by the UN-Arab League envoy and the UN leader come at a crucial new stage in the conflict. The Security Council has until Friday to renew the UN mission in Syria but is divided over Western calls to add sanctions.
"So divided that maybe Annan and Ban now have the most influence over Russia and China to get anything done," said one senior UN council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On the ground, troops bombarded rebel areas in several parts of Syria as violence killed at least 55 people on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Among the dead was a girl who was killed along with three other people when the army rained shells on the town of Rastan, a rebel stronghold in the central province of Homs, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Government troops also shelled the Damascus neighbourhoods of Tadamon and Al-Hajar al-Aswad, the watchdog said, as activists claimed that "tanks entered Tadamon" and said fierce clashes erupted in the district.
Speaking at a news conference in the capital, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said troops did not use helicopters and tanks in Thursday's assault on Treimsa.
"This is absolutely not true. Only troop carriers and lights weapons were used, the most powerful of weapons being RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades)," he said.
"What happened was not an attack by the army on innocent civilians," said Makdissi.
"The aim of this news conference is to tell people that what happened was not a massacre... It was a clash between regular forces and armed groups who do not believe in a peaceful solution."
UN observers entered Treimsa to continue their investigations, after they saw blood and evidence of the use of heavy weapons as well as burned out homes during a trip to the village on Saturday. They did not give a casualty toll.
"On the basis of this preliminary mission, UNSMIS can confirm that an attack, using a variety of weapons, took place in Treimsa on July 12," said Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria.
"The attack on Treimsa appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists. There were pools of blood and blood spatters in rooms of several homes together with bullet cases," she said.
"The UN team also observed a burned school and damaged houses with signs of internal burning in five of them," Ghosheh said, adding that a "wide range of weapons were used, including artillery, mortars and small arms."
-- 'Only five buildings targeted' --
Makdissi said "only five buildings where there were very sophisticated weapons were targeted."
The Observatory said more than 150 people were killed in the assault which it alleged was a massacre carried out by the army backed by pro-regime shabiha militiamen.
"It might be the biggest massacre committed in Syria since the start of the revolution," in March 2011, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
But Makdissi, citing an unidentified source who claimed to have buried them, said that "37 armed men were killed and two civilians only."
Treimsa is a majority Sunni village situated near Alawite hamlets. Assad belongs to the Alawite community -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Most Syrians are Sunni.
Meanwhile the head of the opposition Syrian National Council said on Sunday that US President Barack Obama must not wait until his re-election bid is resolved to take action to stop the slaughter in Syria.
"We cannot understand that a superpower ignores the killing of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians because of an election campaign that a president may win or lose," Abdel Basset Sayda told CNN.
The international community has reacted with outrage to the latest killings, which have added urgency to deadlocked UN Security Council negotiations on a Syria resolution.
A draft statement which said the Syria government is in "violation" of its international commitments was circulated among the 15 council nations on Friday, diplomats said. Russia's envoys said they could not agree without approval from Moscow.
Russia has led the resistance and Annan is to meet President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during two days of talks in Moscow, said his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.
China has supported Russia's rejections and Ban heads for Beijing on Monday, officially for a China-Africa summit. But Syria will top his talks agenda when he meets President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders, said a UN official.
by Roueida Mabardi Â© 2012 AFP
Date: Jul 15, 2012