U.N. says over 92 killed in Syria, 32 of them children (REUTERS) By Joseph Logan BEIRUT, LEBANON 05/26/12 6:52pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - The United Nations said on Saturday that more than 92
people were killed in what activists described as an artillery
barrage by government forces in the worst violence since the start of
a U.N. peace plan to slow the flow of blood in Syria´s uprising.
The bloodied bodies of children, some with their skulls split open,
were shown in footage posted to YouTube purporting to show the
victims of the shelling in the central town of Houla on Friday. The
sound of wailing filled the room.
The carnage underlined just how far Syria is from any negotiated path
out of the 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
"This morning U.N. military and civilian observers went to Houla and
counted more than 32 children under the age of 10 and over 60 adults
killed," the head of U.N. team monitoring the ceasefire - which has
yet to take hold - said.
"The observers confirmed from examination of ordinances the use of
artillery tank shells," Major General Robert Mood said in a
statement, without elaborating. "Whoever started, whoever responded
and whoever carried out this deplorable act of violence should be
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack.
"Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to
account," she said in a statement. "And the United States will work
with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad
and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end."
In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded "the
government of Syria immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in
Activists said Assad´s forces shelled the town of Houla on Friday
evening after security forces killed a protester and following
skirmishes between troops and fighters from the Sunni Muslim-led
insurgency fighting Syria´s rulers, who belong to the minority
A British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights, said Houla residents fled, fearing more shelling. It said one
person was killed in the northern town of Saraqeb when troops fired
on a protest against the killing.
Syrian state television aired some of the footage disseminated by
activists after the killing in Houla, calling the bodies victims of a
massacre committed by "terrorist" gangs.
It also showed video of bodies with what looked like gunshot wounds
to the head, sprawled on bloodstained mattresses.
Activists distributed footage appearing to show protests in Aleppo,
the largest city in the north.
A member of the fragmented exile group that says it speaks for
Syria´s political opposition said Assad´s forces had killed "entire
families" in Houla in addition to the shelling.
"The Syrian National Council (SNC) urges the U.N. Security Council to
call for an emergency meeting ... and to determine the responsibility
of the United Nations in the face of such mass killings," SNC
spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani said.
Although a 6-week-old ceasefire plan negotiated by former U.N.
secretary-general Kofi Annan has failed to stop the violence, the
United Nations is nearing full deployment of a 300-strong unarmed
observer force meant to monitor a truce.
The plan calls for a truce, withdrawal of troops from cities and
dialogue between the government and opposition.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned the violence as
a "massacre" and said he wanted to arrange a meeting in Paris of the
Friends of Syria, a group that brings together Western and Arab
countries keen to remove Assad.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was coordinating a "strong
response" to the killings and would call for the Security Council to
meet in the coming days.
United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abudllah bin Zayed al-
Nahayan requested an urgent meeting of the Arab League while Arab
League head Nabil Elaraby called the killing in Houla a "horrific
Elaraby urged the U.N. Security Council - where Russia and China have
protected Syria - to "stop the escalation of killing and violence by
armed gangs and government military forces."
Syria calls the revolt a "terrorist" conspiracy run from abroad, a
veiled reference to Sunni Muslim Gulf powers that want to see weapons
provided to an insurgency led by Syria´s majority Sunnis against
Ban said on Friday that recent bomb attacks may have been the work
of "established terrorist groups" and urged states not to supply arms
to either the government or rebel forces.
"Those who may contemplate supporting any side with weapons, military
training or other military assistance, must reconsider such options
to enable a sustained cessation of violence," he told the Security
Council in a letter.
The United Nations has accused Assad´s forces and insurgents alike of
grave human rights abuses, including summary executions and torture.
Ban also has expressed fear that Syria´s conflict will destabilize
neighboring Lebanon, whose delicate sect-based politics has been
shaken by tensions among Lebanese foes and friends of the uprising in
In the latest episode, gunmen in northern Syria snatched a group of
Lebanese Shi´ites this week as they were returning from a religious
pilgrimage, deepening unrest after sectarian fighting in northern
Lebanon and battles between pro- and anti-Syrian Sunni factions in
the capital over the last two weeks.
Uncertainty over their increased tension in Beirut on Saturday, a day
after Lebanon´s top officials said the release of the hostages and
their return home was imminent. Shi´ites had blocked roads and burned
tires after hearing of the abduction.
The prime minister said on Friday afternoon they had been freed but
by Saturday there was still no sign of them. A member of the SNC said
they still were in captivity, further angering a crowd that had
gathered at Beirut´s airport to meet them. (Additional reporting by
Ayman Samir in Cairo; Editing by Jon Hemming and Bill TrottA) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 05/26/12)
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