World in uproar as Syrian forces massacre citizens (ISRAEL HAYOM) Yoni Hirsch, Daniel Siryoti, Shlomo Cesana, Eli Leon and The Associated Press 05/28/12)
Israel Hayom Articles-Index-Top
Thousands of deaths in year-long uprising against Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad have failed to shock the world as much as images of
an apparent massacre on Friday • U.S. prepares plan for quiet ousting
of Assad • Russia said to be amenable.
The reported massacre of men, women and children by Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the small town of Houla, near Homs, on
Friday may end up becoming a turning point in the 14-month struggle
against Assad and his regime. The incident may have sealed Assad´s
fate and shortened his rule of a country now on the brink of a bloody
According to reports by U.N. observers, who as part of an Arab League
initiative to solve the crisis were visiting the area at the time,
the massacre began after the traditional Friday prayers, as residents
left mosques in the village. Syrian forces shelled the residents
using artillery, resulting in the deaths of at least 116 people — a
third of whom were reported to be children — and injuring 300 others.
Witnesses claimed that after the bombardment, soldiers and Shabiha
gangs (legions of thugs loyal to the regime) gunned down men in the
streets and murdered entire families in their homes. Images uploaded
to the Internet showed bodies of children with bullet holes in their
A video released by the U.N. team in Syria on Sunday showed observers
in Houla the day after the attack, meeting with local rebels and
watching residents collect more bodies for burial. It also showed two
destroyed armored personnel carriers, suggesting that local rebels
put up more of a fight than officially acknowledged.
"Many women and children were killed. We saw mothers who tried to
protect their children and died together with them," a witness told
the Al Arabiya news agency. "Where is the U.N., where is the world
which must stop this massacre?"
U.N. observers were in fact not far from where the incident occurred.
Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the unarmed U.N. observer mission,
visited Houla before the incident on Friday and warned that the
situation could get out of control. After the massacre, Mood
said, "Those behind these horrific attacks must be held responsible.
U.N. observers who visited Houla counted 49 children and 34 women
among the dead. The violence is destabilizing Syria and the country
is on the threshold of civil war."
The Syrian government rejected that narrative Sunday, painting a
vastly different picture. Speaking to reporters in Damascus, Foreign
Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Syrian security forces were in
their local bases Friday when they were attacked by "hundreds of
heavily armed gunmen" firing mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-
tank missiles, staring a nine-hour battle that killed three soldiers
and wounded 16.
The soldiers fought back, but did not leave their bases, he said. "No
Syrian tank or artillery entered this place where the massacres were
committed," he said. "The security forces did not leave their places
because they were in a state of self-defense."
He blamed the gunmen for what he called a "terrorist massacre" in
Houla and accused the media, Western officials and others of spinning
a "tsunami of lies" to justify foreign intervention in Syria.
Makdissi did not provide videos or other evidence to support his
version of events, nor did he give a death toll. He said the
government had formed a committee to investigate and share its
findings with U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who is due to
visit Damascus in coming days.
Syria´s state news agency, SANA, claimed that al-Qaida terrorists
were responsible for the deaths of the citizens.
Anti-regime activists scoffed at the government´s version of events.
One Houla activist said via Skype that the area had at most 300
fighters, that none had more than rifles and that they often lacked
"If we had anti-tank missiles, there would be no tanks left in the
area," said Mohammed, declining to give his full name for fear of
Activists reported shelling, gunfire and arrest raids in opposition
areas throughout the country Sunday as well as clashes between regime
forces and rebels in a number of areas. The Britain-based Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights said security forces killed at least 14
civilians, while rebels killed nine soldiers.
Activist claims could not be independently verified. The Syrian
government bars most media from operating in the country.
Britain’s Channel 4 is scheduled to air a program on Monday on an
investigation it conducted which yielded evidence of the involvement
of Assad´s family in the massacres. Among other findings, the program
will report that Assad´s cousin instructed government troops
to "shoot to kill" citizens who demonstrated in the city of Dara.
Assad´s brother was reportedly present when the order was given.
The killings brought widespread international criticism of Assad and
his regime, although differences emerged from world powers over
whether his forces were exclusively to blame.
The Security Council issued a press statement Sunday that
condemned “in the strongest possible terms" the killings in Houla. It
blamed Syrian forces for artillery and tank shelling of residential
areas. It also condemned the killings of civilians "by shooting at
close range and by severe physical abuse," but avoided saying who was
responsible for the attacks.
The council´s statement said the "outrageous use of force" against
civilians violated international law and Syrian government
commitments under previous U.N. resolutions to stop all violence,
including the use of heavy weapons in populated areas. It said "those
responsible for acts of violence must be held accountable," and asked
the U.N. observer mission in Syria and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
to investigate the attacks and report back to the council.
Britain and France had proposed issuing a press statement condemning
the attack on civilians and pointing the finger at the Syrian
government for Friday´s massacre. But Russia called for an emergency
council meeting saying it first wanted a briefing by Mood.
The massacre in Houla on Friday cast fresh doubts on the ability of
the international peace plan put forward by Annan to end the crisis.
In a letter to the Security Council, Ban said villages in the Houla
area had been outside government control but surrounded by a heavy
Syrian military presence. When U.N. observers visited the area on
Saturday, Ban said they saw 85 corpses in a mosque in Taldou
and "observed shotgun wounds and wounds consistent with artillery
fire." He said "the patrol also saw artillery and tank shells, as
well as fresh tank tracks" and observed that "many buildings had been
destroyed by heavy weapons."
At U.N. headquarters, Russia´s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Alexander
Pankin told reporters as he headed into the closed-door Security
Council meeting that "there is substantial ground to believe that the
majority of those who were killed were either slashed, cut by knives,
or executed at point-blank distance."
"We have to establish whether it was Syrian authorities ... before we
agree on something," he said.
A press statement is weaker than a presidential statement, which
becomes part of the council record, or a legally binding U.N.
resolution, but it must be approved by all 15 members and therefore
reflects strong Security Council backing.
Annan´s peace plan for Syria, sponsored by the U.N. and the Arab
League, is one of the few points of agreement among world powers
about Syria´s crisis, which began in March 2011 with protests calling
for political change. As the government cracked down violently on the
uprising, many in the opposition took up arms to defend themselves
and attack government troops.
The U.N. put the death toll weeks ago at more than 9,000. Hundreds
more have been killed since then.
Daily violence has marred the plan since a cease-fire was supposed to
begin April 12. The Houla attack made Friday the deadliest day since
the truce was announced, and has cast a shadow over Annan´s visit.
In another defiant move, Syria on Sunday denied permission for
Annan´s deputy to travel to Damascus with his boss, a senior Arab
League official said. The rejection of former Palestinian Foreign
Minister Nasser al-Kidwa was intended as a slap to the Arab League,
which suspended Syria´s membership and approved sanctions against it
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the issue. Annan´s spokesman declined to comment.
The Houla attacks caused outrage among American and international
officials that Makdissi´s comments Sunday failed to assuage.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would summon Syria´s
most senior diplomat in the U.K. on Monday so the Foreign Office
could "make clear our condemnation of the Syrian regime´s actions."
Kuwait, which currently heads the 22-member Arab League, called for
an Arab ministerial meeting to "take steps to put an end to the
oppressive practices against the Syrian people."
Switzerland´s Foreign Ministry urged that an international inquiry be
convened, saying the killings "could constitute a war crime."
In Paris, the head of the exile Syrian National Council also
condemned the killings. "The kids of Houla are the kids of all of
Syria," Burhan Ghalioun told reporters. "Killing the kids of Houla is
like killing the kids of all of Syria."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the violence on
Saturday, saying, "Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be
identified and held to account. 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."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed condemnations of the
violence, and in an official statement said, "I would like to express
my repugnance over the non-stop massacres of innocent citizens
perpetrated by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad,
massacres that continued in the village of Houla over the weekend,
resulting in the deaths of dozens of innocent children. Iran and
Hezbollah have a hand in the Syrian massacres and the world must take
action against them as well."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also commented on the latest events in
Syria, saying, "The massacre carried out by Assad´s regime over the
weekend in the Houla village and the murder of children, women and
elderly people that has taken place over the past year require
international intervention. Images of mangled bodies of children in
Houla have shocked every human being. The barbaric acts perpetrated
by Assad´s regime and the support that Assad has received from Iran
and Hezbollah obligate the world to put an end to it. The murderous
acts taking place in Syria present another opportunity for us to
observe the behavior of some our neighbors and understand why in this
environment we must have a strong Israel Defense Forces constantly
protecting the country."
Annan´s plan calls for eventual talks between all sides on a
political solution to the crisis.
The U.S. hopes Russia can use its influence with Damascus to press
for a political transition similar to that seen in Yemen. In
February, longtime Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh passed power
to his deputy in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
U.S. officials say Russia does not oppose a political transition in
Syria in theory, but has not agreed to specific terms.
The White House called for Assad´s ousting as recently as Saturday.
National Security Council Spokeswoman Erin Pelton said the attack in
Houla served as a "vile testament to an illegitimate regime."
According to U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes,
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev "did not dispute the fact that
there needs to be a process of political transition" in Syria.
"I think the question is, just how does that manifest itself?" Rhodes
told reporters at a May 19 press conference.
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