Syria used helicopters and tanks in


The head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria has said that helicopters and tanks were used to shell a town in the centre of the country before a massacre that is believed to have killed more than 140 people on Thursday.

General Robert Mood, who has led the UN presence in Syria since April, said his members were ready to enter the town of Tremseh if a truce there took hold. He said monitors stationed in the area had personally verified that heavy weapons were directed against Tremseh on Thursday.

Late on Friday the UN said observers had been unable to contact the local military commander responsible for the area near Tremseh and its members had been refused access. It claimed the Syrian air force "continued to attack populated urban areas on a large scale" and said its observers had logged more than 100 explosions in an "ongoing military operation".

Residents of the small town of around 6,000 people said they were attacked from outlying areas late on Thursday after many hours of shelling. They blamed the attack on loyalist forces and a pro-regime militia known as the Shabiha which has been accused of being at the vanguard of other mass killings during recent months.

Syrian officials instead blamed "terrorists", who they say have been responsible for much of the violence in Syria since the uprising began almost 17 months ago.