BEIRUT: A Syrian artillery barrage killed more than 90 people, including dozens of children, in the worst violence since the start of a UN peace plan to staunch the flow of blood from Syria’s uprising, activists said today.
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 yesterday. The sound of wailing filled the room.
The reports of the carnage, which could not be confirmed independently, underlined how far Syria is from any negotiated path out of the 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
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.
Syrian state television aired some of the footage disseminated by activists, 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.
A British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said residents of Houla were fleeing in fear of more shelling.
It said one person was killed in the northern town of Saraqeb when security forces opened fire on a protest against the killing. Activists distributed footage appearing to show similar 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 UN 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.
Opposition activists said Syrian forces had opened fire with artillery yesterday after skirmishing with insurgents in Houla, a cluster of villages north of the city of Homs, itself battered by shelling.
Although Annan’s six-week old ceasefire plan 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 also calls for a truce, withdrawal of troops from cities and dialogue between the government and opposition.
UN observers arrive
BEIRUT: A team of UN observers deployed in Syria to monitor a truce in place since April 12 arrived on Saturday in the town of Houla, site of a “massacre” by regime forces in which at least 90 people died, monitors said. “A team of UN observers arrived in the village of Taldau on the outskirts of Houla, to document the crimes committed in the past 24 hours, in violation of the ceasefire,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.