Syrian activists claimed yesterday of a new massacre in Tremseh, where pro-regime forces allegedly killed 200 residents of the small village with tank and helicopter fire. New reports suggest the town was filled with poorly armed opposition forces who brought knives to a tank fight.
The New York Times explains the latest theory of what happened:
The picture emerging is that there was a large group of fighters from the town and the local area bivouacked in Tremseh. The Syrian Army moved in early Thursday, blocking all exits and blasting away with machine guns, tank shells and rockets fired from helicopters, laying waste to the town.
Pieced together through videos online and state-run television reports, the Times argues there were opposition fighters in the town, but they weren't very well armed. State television showed a room full of small, crudely made weapons captured after the fighting ended, including "54 guns, 9 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 5,000 cartridges, 25 satellite telephones and 24 mortars, the latter looking as if they had been welded by hand." None of that mattered once the Syrian army rolled into town with trucks full of soldiers and a small collection of tanks. The team of U.N. observers entered the town on Thursday to try and investigate what happened.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross has decided the conflict has grown large enough in scale to label it an "armed internal conflict," which is essentially their way of labeling it a civil war. The ICRC sets the Geneva Conventions that determines the rules of war. Reuters explains what this means for the conflict going forward:
The qualification means that people who order or commit attacks on civilians including murder, torture and rape, or use disproportionate force against civilian areas, can be charged with war crimes in violation of international humanitarian law.
Al-Assad has generally behaved as if he was untouchable up until this point. He's had to worry about tough talk from international powers, but he's remained mostly protected from any sanctions or military action thanks to his relationship with Russia. It'll be interesting if, now that the Red Cross added potential war crimes whether he'll change his strategy. It could happen, but we're not holding our breath.