News / Middle East

UN Security Council Blames Syria for Houla Massacre

Handout photo released by Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows UN observers at hospital morgue before their burial in central Syrian town of Houla on May 26, 2012.Handout photo released by Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows UN observers at hospital morgue before their burial in central Syrian town of Houla on May 26, 2012.
x
Handout photo released by Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows UN observers at hospital morgue before their burial in central Syrian town of Houla on May 26, 2012.
Handout photo released by Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows UN observers at hospital morgue before their burial in central Syrian town of Houla on May 26, 2012.
Edward YeranianMark Snowiss

CAIRO - The United Nations Security Council Sunday unanimously condemned the Syrian government for last week's brutal massacre of at least 108 people, including many children, in Houla, even as Damascus denied its armed forces were responsible.

 

The 15-nation council said Sunday the attacks "involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood" and again demanded that President Bashar al-Assad withdraw heavy weapons from Syrian towns.

 

The council also "condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse" and said Syria's "outrageous use of force" against its own population is a "violation of applicable international law."

 

The statement, agreed to by Syrian ally Russia, called for those responsible to be held accountable.

 

Earlier Sunday, the U.N. mission chief in Syria told an emergency council session that about 108 people - including 49 children under the age of 10 - were killed in the attack. General Robert Mood, speaking via video-link from Damascus, said another 300 people were wounded in the incident. 

 

U.N. observers had initially counted 92 dead in Houla.

 

International officials have largely blamed the government for Friday's massacre, but Syria has said it was carried out by rebel fighters.

 

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad Makdissi Sunday called accusations against the Syrian government a "tsunami of lies." Instead, he blamed "hundreds of heavily armed gunmen" who he claimed attacked soldiers.

 

Those troops, he argues, did not leave their positions except to defend themselves during a nine-hour attack, as armed men allegedly burned houses and killed civilians.

 

But U.N. observers confirmed that artillery and tank shells - which only government forces have - were fired at residential areas of Houla, northwest of Homs. In a letter to the Security Council, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also said monitors had observed signs of shotgun wounds on some of the bodies.

 

Activists from Houla say government forces peppered the area with mortar shells after large demonstrations against the government on Friday. They say that evening pro-Syrian fighters known as shabiha stormed Houla's three villages, gunning down men in the streets at point-blank range and stabbing women and children in their homes.

 

The massacre marks the deadliest single attack since Syria's anti-government uprising began about 15 months ago.

 

Images of bloodied and lifeless young bodies, laid carefully side by side after Friday's onslaught, triggered shock around the world and underlined the failure of a six-week-old U.N. cease-fire plan to stop the violence.

 

International envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the peace plan, is expected in Syria on Monday.

 

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Sunday the "indiscriminate and possibly deliberate" killing of villagers in the Houla area may mount to crimes against humanity or other forms of international crime.

 

Arab and western governments have issued statements expressing outrage and putting the blame squarely on Mr. Assad's government.

 

The White House said it was horrified by credible reports of brutal attacks on women and children in Houla. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Sunday spoke of a "heinous act perpetrated by the Syrian regime against its own civilian population."

 

Angry protests over the killings continued across parts of Syria on Sunday, including the capital Damascus, where security forces fired on protesters in the Midan district. Demonstrations also took place in the southern city of Daraa.

 

Arab satellite channels showed an amateur video of a resident of that village, Teldau, meeting with a U.N. observer team and complaining about the cruel behavior of government forces.

 

"My God, we are men," he says, "we are men and they are killing us as if we were less than donkeys." "We were created by God," he insists. "Can it be that they are not God-fearing men?”

 

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, says the Syrian government has a long history of using brutality and repression to deal with opposition.

 

He argues the government has a bad habit of using brutal force to put down rebellions, such as the one in Hama in 1982, which killed thousands of people, as well as brutality against prisoners. Abou Diab adds the Assad government has done everything possible to militarize the current conflict and turn it into a sectarian affair in order to remain in power.

 

General Mood urged the government and the opposition to put an end to the violence. He did not directly blame either side for Friday's massacre, but noted government tanks had fired at houses inside one of the villages where the massacre took place.

 

The rebel Free Syrian Army warned it will not adhere to the U.N.-mediated peace plan if the international community does not take concrete actions to protect citizens. The head of the exile Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, also condemned the killings.

 

Makdissi called the Houla assault "brutal" and said the Syrian government has launched an investigation.

 

Syrian troops shelled residential areas Sunday in the central city of Hama, and the rebel-held town of Rastan, killing at least 14 civilians.

 

The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since the government began its crackdown on dissent in March 2011.

 

 

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.


Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs