Security Council Blames Syria for Attack (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By NOUR MALAS 05/27/12)
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The U.N. Security Council has blamed Syrian government forces for
artillery and tank shelling of residential areas in the town of Houla
and it is strongly condemning the killing of dozens of civilians.
The council said in a press statement issued after an emergency
meeting Sunday afternoon that it also "condemned the killing of
civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse" in
Houla. It did not say who was responsible for the close-range
attacks. The U.N. says at least 108 people, including 49 children and
34 women, died in Friday´s attacks in Houla.
The council statement says the "outrageous use of force" against
civilians violated international law and Syrian government
commitments under Security Council resolutions to cease violence,
including the use of heavy weapons in populated areas.
The 12-hour artillery barrage that began on a string of villages
northwest of Homs on Friday afternoon—which Syria´s government denied
any role in on Sunday—also drew international condemnation and
effectively upended a cease-fire most international powers had banked
on as the best way out of Syria´s crisis.
Western officials said they were still committed to seeing through
the peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan, a joint envoy of the U.N. and
Arab League, underscoring the limited scope of viable international
action on Syria, even as the violence in the country appeared to
"It´s not like there is a range of options out there or alternatives
to cease-fire and peaceful transition," a U.N. official said on
Sunday, adding, "If or when countries become ready to take
alternative action, then I don´t think the mission will be an
In a renewed diplomatic push at the U.N. Security Council, Western
nations pressed to hold Syria´s government accountable for the
attack, one of the single bloodiest incidents of violence in the 14-
month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Annan on
Saturday called it a "flagrant violation" of both international law
and Syria´s commitment to the cease-fire.
The press statement was open to different interpretations by Western
council nations on the one hand, and the Russians and Syrians on the
other. The disagreement centered on who was responsible for the
killings at short range and what the circumstances were leading to
Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the U.N., told reporters
that the incident began after Friday prayers when 200 to 300
opposition fighters gathered from several points in Houla with pick-
up trucks armed with anti-tank missiles, mortars and machine guns.
Mr. Jaafari said they began attacking local police in the town for
nine hours on Friday, before moving to burn a hospital and attacked
farms and houses in a neighboring village.
While he did not deny that the Syrian army fired tank rounds into a
neighborhood of Houla, he said, "These shells would not have killed
these innocent civiians who were killed at short range." Mr. Jaafair
charged that "armed groups have initiated these kinds of attacks from
the beginning of the crisis." He suggested they were carried out in
Houla to undermine Mr. Annan´s visit to Damascus on Tuesday as well
as to provoke international armed intervention.
"One of the reasons for perpetuating these crimes might be to
increase the internationalization of the Syrian crisis," he told
reporters. He said those found guilty of the killings would be held
accountable by the Syrian government.
Gen. Mood told the Security Council that the circumstances leading to
the killings remained "murky," diplomats said. He also said it was
impossible to tell how many of the 108 victims were killed by
shelling or by close-range gunfire. Many of the bodies could not be
examined for forensic evidence because they were either interred or
wrapped for burial, diplomats quoted Gen. Mood as saying in his
closed-door briefing to the council.
"It does not matter what the circumstances leading up to the atrocity
was, it was an atrocity and it was committed by the Syrian
government," Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador, told
reporters. He added that despite the incident, "The Annan plan is not
dead but it has not led to what it was supposed to: political
German Ambassador Peter Witting told reporters: Gen. Mood and [U.N.
peacekeeping chief] Herve Ladsous confirmed today very
straightforwardly that there is clear evidence of the use of heavy
weapons, shelling, even traces of tanks in that area. So the evidence
is clear, it is not murky. There is a clear footprint of the
government in the massacre."
Mr. Witting called for a commission of inquiry to look into possible
war crimes. Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights
also on Sunday called for an investigation into potential crimes
against humanity committed in Houla.
Still, the artillery assault on Houla, which U.N. monitors in Syria
confirmed in a field visit, cast deeper doubt over the viability of a
peace plan the opposition now appears no longer willing to entertain.
Rage mounted among Syrian protesters on Sunday at what many perceive
as the Syrian government´s immunity from punishment.
Activist groups reported government shelling in two towns and
fighting with rebel forces in a handful of spots across the country
Rebel fighters vowed to escalate attacks against the regime if the
international community didn´t intervene in response to the Houla
attacks, as protesters poured into the streets of most major cities
for solidarity marches.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said it could no longer commit to the
cease-fire. An influential grass-roots group of activists and
fighters, the Homs Revolutionary Council, said it would stop meeting
with the U.N. mission except on humanitarian issues.
The council called the U.N. monitors "helpless" and accused them of
not intervening despite being presented repeated evidence of the
regime´s cease-fire violations, "except to count the victims the day
after the massacre just as the U.N. did in Sarajevo and Srebrenica in
Angry calls from protesters raised concerns over the safety of the
"The Annan mission achieved little successes here and there," said
Rim Turkmani, the London-based spokeswoman for an opposition
political group in Damascus. "But after the Houla massacre, people
are extremely emotional. They don´t want to listen to anyone or
anything," said Ms. Turkmani. "It´s a very tough time."
In an apparent response to the outrage, Syria´s Foreign Ministry held
a news conference in Damascus on Sunday, acknowledging the Houla
attacks as a "massacre" but denying government tanks or artillery
were in the vicinity.
Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said hundreds
of "heavily armed gunmen carrying machine guns, mortars and antitank
missiles" launched a nine-hour barrage from several locations,
killing three soldiers and wounding 16 as five army positions came
under attack simultaneously.
He said Syria was facing a "tsunami of lies" on the incident, which
state television a day earlier blamed on al Qaeda-linked terrorists.
U.N. monitors at the site of the attack said they saw spent artillery
amid rubble in residential neighborhoods and counted 92 bodies,
including those of 32 children below the age of 10, confirming
accounts by witnesses and opposition activists, who put the death
toll from the incident at slightly above 100.
"There was not a minute between each rocket and shell," said Ahmed
Qassem, a Houla native living in Saudi Arabia who tracked the attacks
through his family in the village.
Witnesses and activists said the tank shelling and rocket fire began
Friday afternoon. Security forces had fired at protesters marching
out of mosques after the Islamic prayer at noon, leading to fighting
between opposition and government forces in which, according to two
witness accounts, two army officers and several other soldiers were
In apparent retribution, the government started to shell the string
of villages in a bombardment that lasted at least 12 hours, these
witnesses and other activists said.
Western diplomats said on Sunday they were concerned that the Syrian
government would continue to escalate attacks.
But the mission of some 250 unarmed U.N. monitors in Syria is
unlikely to change course despite growing questions over its
relevance, and new calls for alternative routes of action on Syria.
The mission is part of a broader U.N.-backed peace plan that sees a
cease-fire as a starting point to a political transition that would
ease President Assad out of power. For months, Western officials have
voiced concerns over the plan but said it remains the only viable
diplomatic option, one designed to bring Russia—Mr. Assad´s strongest
international ally—on board.
"The international community is not agreed on whether there would be
intervention or what type of intervention there would be if the Annan
plan didn´t work," U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said ahead of
a visit to Moscow on Sunday.
"Our emphasis for now and the emphasis of all the permanent members
of the Security Council—Britain and Russia included—is to try to get
the Annan plan to work," he said, adding he hoped Russia
would "redouble efforts" to urge Mr. Assad to stick by the plan.
Reports of pro-regime groups from neighboring villages raiding homes
and stabbing women and children to death Friday night, after the tank
and rocket fire on Houla had stopped—in what some activists described
as violent sectarian killings—remained unclear.
Mohammad Abdel Karim al-Moustapha, an activist in Houla, said pro-
regime thugs from the Alawite villages neighboring Houla—a plain of
largely Sunni towns—began to storm houses at dawn.
"They want to scare us, and drive us away forever," Mr. Moustapha
said by telephone.
Other activists disputed those accounts and cautioned against further
inflaming sectarian rage between the largely Sunni opposition and
members of the Alawite sect, to which Syria´s president and much of
the higher ranks of the repressive military and security apparatus
belong. —Joe Lauria at the United Nations and Associated Press
contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
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