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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.