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60 makeshift headstones amid the rubble of Taftanaz, Syria

Locals mourn at least 60 people killed by Syrian troops in Taftanaz. Photo: Sean Swan

The Syrian village of Taftanaz has paid a heavy price for its dissent.

It lies just a few kilometres north of Idlib, but unfortunately for its inhabitants right next door is a huge Syrian Army helicopter base.

Clearly the powers that be didn’t like the close proximity of people opposed to the regime so earlier this month they used their helicopters and tanks to try to teach Taftanaz a lesson.

On two mass graves we were able to count more than 60 makeshift headstones. There was no reason to doubt claims that men, women and children had been killed during the rampage.

The tanks rolled in around 6 am and many did have time to flee, but those who did not were at the mercy of soldiers who didn’t show them much of that.

Hundreds of homes have been burned out. Dozens have been flattened. In parts, Taftanaz resembles an earthquake zone. The dead were shot, crushed or burned.

The village mosque was shelled, underscoring the sectarian nature of this conflict - the side to it that makes it so potentially combustible and contagious for the whole region.

Here were soldiers from the ruling Shia sect trying to pound into submission a Sunni village.

Not far from Taftanaz the tanks rest at checkpoints. A nervous rebel took us to see one. He was armed with a handgun; his enemies had a T72 battle tank.

And if it and others roll into Taftanaz again there will be nothing to stand in their way.

Morale among the Free Syrian Army is low.

They are a fractured, ill-equipped force who, after more than a year of fighting, are giving ground, not gaining it.

President Assad’s consent to a ceasefire – partial or otherwise – has nothing to do with military necessity. He has no need for it militarily, for his army is winning.

Perhaps he has signed up to keep the Russians and Chinese on board. Or perhaps he realises that down the road he will have to do a deal that acknowledges the uprising.