UN monitors have confirmed that the bloodshed in Houla has left at least 90 people dead, including 32 children. The Free Syrian Army has declared that it will no longer honor the ceasefire unless the UN takes “urgent steps to protect civilians.”
“We announce that unless the UN Security Council takes urgent steps for the protection of civilians, Annan’s plan is going to go to hell,” a statement by the FSA said, as cited by AFP.
The announcement comes after the deadliest act of violence since the implementation of the UN peace plan in Syria.
At least 90 people, including dozens of children, were killed in the city of Houla on Friday night. Some reports put the number of dead at more than 110, saying that at least 50 of them were children.
A team of UN observers that arrived in Houla to investigate the killings have confirmed at least 90 casualties, including 32 children under the age of 10 and dozens of women. UN mission head Maj-Gen Robert Mood said the killing in Houla was “indiscriminate and unforgivable,” and called on both government forces and the opposition to immediately stop the violence “in all its forms.”
Initially the massacre was reported by opposition activists, including the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who claimed that the city was shelled by government forces during an anti-regime demonstration. Reports also suggested that troops entered the city and butchered dozens of people.
Syrian state TV meanwhile reported that the attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups who exterminated several families in the Homs province.
They also burned several houses in order to push blame on the army, SANA news reported.
So far, there were no official statements blaming any particular party for the deadly attack.
Several amateur videos posted on YouTube show dozens of bodies, including many children, crippled by shrapnel. The videos were widely distributed by the media, but the source of the footage could not be independently verified.
Although there was no confirmation of the Syrian government’s involvement in the attack, international media and world leaders rushed to accuse the Assad regime of being behind the bloodshed.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was the first to condemn the massacre, saying that “with these new crimes, this murderous regime pushes Syria further into horror and threatens regional stability.” He also urged the Friends of Syria working group to immediately arrange a meeting on the issue in Paris.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague meanwhile is calling for an urgent session of the UN Security Council. “There are credible and horrific reports that a large number of civilians have been massacred at the hands of Syrian forces in the town of Houla, including children,” Hague said as cited by the BBC.
The White House also vehemently condemned the Houla massacre. National Security Council spokesperson Erin Pelton said the attacks serve as a “vile testament to an illegitimate regime.” The White House stated that the Syrian government responds to peaceful political protest “with unspeakable and inhuman brutality.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms” and demanded that the perpetrators be identified and held to account.
“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,” she said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was “shocked and horrified” by the massacre.
The Arab League also censured the attack, with Secretary General Nabil Al-Arabi urging the UN to take immediate steps to stop the killings being perpetrated by both armed gangs and army soldiers in Syria. In the wake of Houla tragedy, the United Arab Emirates has called for an emergency Arab League meeting.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and special peace envoy Kofi Annan have condemned the massacre as a “brutal violation” of international law.
On May 25, Ban Ki-Moon released a report blaming the Assad government for the majority of the crimes in Syria, the magnitude of which he said have reached an “unacceptable level.” He added, however, that “significant parts of some cities appear to be under the de facto control of opposition elements,” calling on all opposition members to also stop the violence and respect human rights.
‘A huge misleading campaign’
There is a huge, misleading, well-planned campaign to distort the facts on the ground and mislead the people, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said in an exclusive interview with RT.
Mekdad claims that the Human Rights Commission and UN observer mission chief Robert Mood admitted that many of the government’s moves are indeed “provoked” by armed groups, and when “the authorities do any action it is only in self-defense.”
“The ball is not in the court of the Syrian government now or the Syrian people,” Mekdad said. “It is in the court of those who do not want to see peace and stability and security in Syria.”
The Human Rights Commission also admitted to occasionally having been “misled by the opposition to say what they said,” Mekdad added.
The minister believes that the main duty of the UN mission is to deliver the true message about the situation on the ground to the Security Council, and make it accept and voice this truth. When the first Arab mission came to the UN with its report, “they did not like it, they dismissed and sacked the whole [observer team],” Mekdad said.
John Glaser, an editor at antiwar.com, believes foreign powers are largely responsible for the escalation of violence in Syria.
“The reason that the conflict has been progressively worse, and has not gotten better even with the ceasefire, is because outside powers apparently insist on continuing to militarize the conflict,” he told RT. “On the one hand you have the US and other Western countries, along with the Arab Gulf states, funneling money and weapons and other kinds of aid to the Syrian opposition despite the fact that they themselves have committed crimes. And on the other hand you have Russia and Iran continuing to send arms and supporting the Assad regime. This outside intervention emboldens both sides and it prevents a more peaceful resolution from being forthcoming.”
Glaser noted that the best solution would be for both sides to heed to the advice given by senior UN officials.
“There’s a good first step, and that’s precisely what the UN Secretary General has advised, and what the UN envoy Kofi Annan has said: stop sending arms to both sides and they would have leverage put on them to actually come to an agreement,” he said.