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As outrage grows in Syria, report of a 'breakthrough' for humanitarian aid

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 14, 2012 -- Updated 0101 GMT (0901 HKT)
A picture released by the Syrian opposition shows smoke rising from a Homs neighborhood Wednesday.
A picture released by the Syrian opposition shows smoke rising from a Homs neighborhood Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At least 80 people are killed Friday, opposition group says
  • "Bureaucratic delay and obstructions have been largely removed," U.N. official says
  • The al-Assad government blames Tremseh killings on terrorists
  • Dozens more are killed in Syria on Friday

Are you in Tremseh in Hama province? Send photos and stories to CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- A glimmer of hope emerged Friday about providing emergency aid to areas of Syria torn apart by months of fighting.

A senior U.N. humanitarian officer who briefed reporters on the situation in Syria said there has been a "breakthrough" in dealing with the Syrian government. "Bureaucratic delay and obstructions," the officer said, "have been largely removed."

The Syrian government is following through on what it has agreed to do but some difficulties still remain, said the officer.

The announcement came a day after more than 200 villagers were killed in the town of Tremseh outside Hama, according to the opposition Local Coordinating Committees of Syria.

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The chief U.N. organization that coordinates emergency aid warned Friday that more Syrians will die if contributing nations do not follow through and fund its relief operation.

"We have run out of language to describe how it is for the civilian population," said John Ging, operations director and chairman of the Syria Humanitarian Forum for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "It is physical and it is psychological."

Humanitarian agencies in Syria are facing "an incredibly complex and dangerous situation to develop networks to be able to deliver to the areas that have been affected by the conflict," he said.

Though lack of security has prevented the agencies from reaching all those in need, progress has been made, he said. For example, food assistance reached 200,000 people in April; that number was expected to more than quadruple this month, he said.

The reports of the massacre in Tremseh have heightened international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"I was deeply saddened and outraged to learn of reports of yet another massacre committed by the Syrian regime," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a written statement. "Credible reports indicate that this unconscionable act was carried out by artillery, tanks, and helicopters -- indisputable evidence that the regime deliberately murdered innocent civilians. Syria cannot be peaceful, stable, or democratic until Assad goes and a political transition begins."

She called for a cease-fire so that the U.N. observer mission could enter the town and vowed that those responsible would be held to account.

U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said he was "shocked and appalled" by the report. He released a statement calling the action a "violation of the government's undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and its commitment to the six-point plan."

Annan brokered a six-point peace plan for Syria in April, but opposition fighters and regime forces have largely shunned its mandates, including a call to put down their weapons.

The Security Council must insist on "consequences for non-compliance" of its resolutions, he said Friday.

The overall death toll for Syria on Thursday -- estimated at 287 -- could make it the bloodiest day in Syria since the uprising against the government started 16 months ago, the LCC said.

The unrest continued Friday, with at least 80 people killed, according to the LCC, which said it had recorded 738 peaceful anti-government demonstrations during the day -- 106 more than last week. Of them, 140 took place in Hama, it said.

According to opposition groups, seven members of the same family were killed late Friday when a mortar fell on their home in the city of Douma near Damascus. Activists posted an amateur video that purports to show their bodies covered with blankets and sheets while a man in mourning calls for revenge against al-Assad.

CNN cannot independently verify reports from Syria because the nation has restricted access by international journalists.

Activists in the city of Hama gave a grisly account of the assault in Tremseh.

Witnesses inside the town told the activists by telephone that Syrian military forces had launched a full-scale attack against the opposition Free Syrian Army inside the town, which was surrounded by government tanks and artillery.

The forces had shelled the town continuously from 5 a.m. until noon, when their tanks entered the village, three activists told CNN separately. None of them was willing to be identified publicly.

Syrian army forces, whose numbers were bolstered by the pro-regime militias called Shabiha, accompanied the tanks into Tremseh, they said.

As the government forces rained artillery rounds into the town, a number of village residents fled their houses, going into the streets, where many of them were shot dead by the government militias, the activists told CNN.

The Syrian Human Rights League, based in Cairo, said electric power and communications were cut in Tremseh in the incident.

The LCC said the "regime has also drawn a line of sectarian demarcation to leave Syrians terrorized from one another." That was a reference to sectarian strife between, for example, Sunnis, the predominant religious group in Syria, and Alawites, the offshoot of Shiite Islam that dominates the government.

Rafif Jouejati, an LCC spokeswoman, said sectarian incidents have been "isolated," and the regime was attempting -- with little success -- to sow ethnic and religious divisions.

"The reality is the peaceful movement continues to thrive despite the regime's best attempts," she said.

The government painted a different picture of Tremseh than that detailed by opposition groups.

In a report in state media, Syria blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the violence. It said the government said residents called security forces for help after the terrorist groups raided the neighborhood.

Regime forces arrested some of the members of the terrorist groups and confiscated their weapons, the government said.

A military source quoted by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said an operation by armed forces destroyed "terrorists' dens," killed many of the people they found there, and led to the arrests of scores more."

The account added, "Armed forces successfully dealt with the terrorists without casualties taking place among the citizens. They searched into the terrorists' dens where they found the dead bodies of a number of citizens who had been abducted and killed by the terrorist groups."

Syrian protesters said the Tremseh incident reflects Annan's failure to broker a peace plan and sought his removal from his role as special envoy. Abdulbaset Sieda, chairman of the opposition Syrian National Council, called Annan's six-point plan a "thing of the past."

CNN's Jill Dougherty, Ivan Watson, Saad Abedine, Hamdi Alkhshali and Joe Sterling, and journalist Shiyar Sayed Mohamed contributed to this report.

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