International mediator Kofi Annan said on Friday that Syrian forces had used heavy weaponry against the village of Tremsa site of a massacre in the rebellious Hama region, in violation of its commitments to his peace plan.
In a statement condemning the “atrocities,” Annan voiced shock at the “intense fighting, significant casualties, and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks and helicopters.”
Meanwhile, U.N. observers in Syria are ready to go to the central village of Treimsa, site of a reported massacre of more than 150 people, if a ceasefire is in place, mission chief Major General Robert Mood said on Friday.
“UNSMIS stands ready to go in and seek verification of facts if and when there is a credible ceasefire,” Mood, the head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, told a news conference in Damascus.
Russia urges Annan
Meanwhile, Russia wants Annan to work more actively with the Syrian opposition and will urge him to do so during a visit to Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Friday.
“To be honest, we do not see our partners being as ready (as Russia) to work with the opposition, and Kofi Annan is the main mediator of this process,” Gatilov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
“Unfortunately, so far we don’t see any practical results from his and his team’s contact with the opposition,” he added. Annan is widely expected in Moscow in the next few days although details of his visit have not been announced.
Recently, Russia has met with some Syrian opposition figures such as the intellectual Michel Kilo and Abdel Basset Sayda in Moscow.
But the opposition leaders meeting with Russian officials was criticized by other opposition groups, as they view Moscow as their archenemy.
Annan will on Monday meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks on the crisis in Syria, Russian news agencies reported.
“The talks will focus on the current situation in Syria and the chances of an internal Syrian solution,” a Russian foreign ministry source, who was not named, told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
Russian ship heads to Syria
Despite Russia’s alleged neutrality regarding the Syrian crisis, a Russian ship that tried to deliver attack helicopters to Syria last month has again left its Arctic port carrying the same military cargo, the state's military export agency said on Friday.
“The Mi-25 helicopters subject for return to Syria after their repair are currently aboard the Alaed, which is sailing from the port in Murmansk to another port in Russia,” Interfax quoted a Rosoboronexport statement as saying.
Changed Chinese stance?
China said on Friday it would “seriously” study a new U.N. draft resolution on Syria after the Tremsa incident.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing that China was “looking seriously” at the draft resolution, and that members should seek consensus.
Britain circulated a draft on Wednesday, backed by the United States, France and Germany, that would make compliance with a transition plan drafted by international envoy Kofi Annan enforceable under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.
Volatile situation, chemical weapons
On Thursday, activists reported that more than 150 Syrian civilians were killed in the central village of Tremsa.
Reports of the massacre came after U.N. Security Council ambassadors held their first talks on rival Russian and Western draft resolutions on Syria, with Moscow spurning calls for sanctions against Assad’s regime.
The volatile situation in Syria has intensified fears that violence can affect and reach neighboring countries like what happened in Lebanon.
The U.S. has also warned on Friday that Syrian officials would be “held accountable” if they failed to safeguard the country’s chemical weapons after a report suggested some were being moved out of storage.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that intelligence reports suggested some chemical weapons were on the move, but the reasons for the transfers were unclear.
It said some U.S. officials feared the weapons could be used against rebels or civilians, while others believed the material was being deliberately hidden from armed opposition groups or Western powers.
“We have repeatedly made it clear that the Syrian government has a responsibility to safeguard its stockpiles of chemical weapons,” spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department Victoria Nuland told reporters.
“The international community will hold accountable any Syrian officials who fail to meet that obligation,” she added in a statement during a trip by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Cambodia.
The Wall Street Journal said the Obama administration was “particularly worried about Syria's stocks of sarin gas, the deadly and versatile nerve agent.”
Syria is also believed to have reserves of mustard gas and cyanide.
More than 17,000 people have been killed in violence since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime broke out in March last year, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.