* U.N. investigators document latest violations
* Syrian forces blamed for most killings, torture
* Rebels also accused of executions, abductions (adds details, byline)
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, May 24 (Reuters) - Syrian government forces have executed entire families in their homes as part of a crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, U.N. investigators said on Thursday.
Both Assad's troops and opposition fighters were committing gross human rights violations despite a six-week-old ceasefire in the conflict, but the army and security forces were responsible for most of the crimes documented since March, a U.N. report said. Children were often victims, it said.
Government abuses included heavy shelling of residential areas, executions and torture. Syrian forces routinely drew up a list of wanted persons and their families before blockading and then attacking a village or neighbourhood, the report said.
Rebels, who are increasingly armed and well-organised, have executed or tortured captured soldiers and pro-government supporters, it said. They have also abducted civilians in an apparent bid to secure prison exchanges or ransoms.
"Most of the serious human rights violations documented by the commission in this update were committed by the Syrian army and security services as part of military or search operations conducted in locations known for hosting defectors and/or armed persons, or perceived as supportive of anti-government armed groups," the report said.
Children were frequently among those killed and wounded during attacks on protests and the bombardment of towns and villages by state forces, it said.
"Entire families were executed in their homes - usually the family members of those opposing the government such as the family members of Colonel Riad al-Asaad," it said, referring to the extended family of the head of the Free Syrian Army.
The team of investigators, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, has not been allowed into Syria but based its report on more than 200 interviews of victims and witnesses.
They confirmed 207 deaths during the two-month period. The United Nations has said that as of December, government forces had killed more than 9,000 people in the uprising against Assad that began in March 2011.
The world body is deploying up to 300 unarmed military observers in Syria to monitor an April 12 truce mediated by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan that has yet to take hold.
Security forces used lethal force against demonstrations in Aleppo, Damascus, Deraa, Hama, Homs, Idlib and in numerous villages across the country since March, the report said.
"Other unlawful killings took place during government military operations undertaken to weed out defectors, anti-government armed groups, their families and other opponents perceived to be supporting anti-government armed groups."
Often Syrian forces issue a warning to hand over the wanted defectors or organisers of the anti-government protests, usually within a deadline, it said. Males in the area would hide or try to evacuate women, children and the elderly.
"Anyone seen trying to leave the area by avoiding the blockades were presumed to be members or supporters of anti-government armed groups and were shot," it said.
The U.N. panel said it had received multiple reports of the armed opposition executing members of the army and security forces, suspected informers and collaborators, and it gave details of two such incidents in Homs.
"A defector who fought in the ranks of Al Farouk Brigade ("FSA") in Homs city stated that members of the government forces, including what he claimed were three Iranian snipers, were summarily executed after they apparently confessed.
"One anti-government armed group fighter also admitted that he and his associates had killed government soldiers when the captives refused to join them," it said.
The U.N. panel has already drawn up a secret list of Syrian officials suspected of ordering crimes against humanity and given it to U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay. She has said that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by Angus MacSwan)
BEFORE YOU GO
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS