Dozens dead in Syrian town of Houla
Published Saturday, May 26, 2012
Dozens of Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces, a leading opposition group said on Saturday, while the government claimed they died in clashes with armed groups.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said more than 90 people, including 25 children, had died in the town of Houla, in the central province of Homs, after an attack by government forces.
Syrian state media SANA blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the killings, adding that "clashes led to the killing of several terrorists and the martyrdom of several members of the special forces."
Amateur videos posted on YouTube showed horrifying images of children lying dead on the floor, with some of their corpses badly mangled. None of the videos were independently verifiable.
A team of UN observers arrived in Houla on Saturday to investigate the alleged killings, the Observatory said.
State news agency SANA confirmed the monitors' arrival in Houla, adding that they had also visited the Sultaniya and Jobar districts of Homs city and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent offices there.
It added that there were attacks by armed groups across the country on Friday, with at least seven civilians dead after a funeral in the city of Hama was ambushed.
Demonstrations were staged across Syria to protest the killings in Houla on Saturday morning, anti-regime activists said.
In Kfarnabel, in the northwestern province of Idlib, scores of men and women took to the streets to honor the dead, chanting: "We sacrifice our soul and life for you, O people of Houla," according to an amateur video posted on YouTube.
Reports of violence are difficult to independently verify due to restrictions on the media and the deteriorating security situation.
France condemned the killings and accused the Syrian government of being solely responsible.
"In Houla dozens of civilians included children died in army bombardments," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
"I condemn the atrocities committed daily by Bashar Assad on his own people. With these new crimes his murderous regime plunges Syria further into horror and threatens regional stability."
The latest flare-up of violence came as Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria who brokered a repeatedly violated ceasefire last month, finalised plans to return to Damascus.
Annan's ceasefire has taken a daily battering as both the government and armed rebels have continued attacks across the country.