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zaterdag, mei 26, 2012

Syria child massacre confirmed

The BBC's Jim Muir: "It's been 14 months and 10,000 or more dead"

International leaders have condemned the reported killing of at least 90 people, including children, in the Syrian town of Houla by the government.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would seek a strong international response to the "appalling crime".

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and the Arab League also condemned the assault.

Shocking but unverified footage shows the bodies of children after government forces shelled and attacked the town.

This is said to be one the bloodiest attacks in one area since a nominal truce began in April.

The UN said its international monitors had visited the area.


Mr Fabius said he was making immediate arrangements for a Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria group, which includes Western and Arab nations, but not Russia or China, who have blocked previous attempts to introduce UN sanctions.

Fighting in Syria has continued despite the deployment of some 250 UN observers monitoring a cease-fire brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan - a ceasefire which the BBC's Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says is now "pretty fictional".

The UN says at least 10,000 have been killed since an uprising began in March 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Day of mourning


The "massacre" video which has emerged from Houla bears the sound of a man screaming:

"These are all children! Watch, you dogs, you Arabs, you animals - look at these children, watch, just watch!"

On a bedroom floor dozens of little children lie dead, their arms and legs strewn over one another. Many of their eyes are still open, bearing a look of shock and fright. They are all covered with blood and obviously suffered terrible deaths.

A girl, who is perhaps seven years old, wearing a headscarf and pink diamonte belt, lies face to face in death with a much younger boy.

Another little boy in a yellow jumper lies with his arms stretched out, almost cradling the head of the girl next to him. Blood covers both their faces and soaks their hair.

People off camera are shouting: "Oh God, oh God, oh God."

Mr Hague said he would be calling for an urgent session of the UN Security Council in the coming days.

"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," he said.

Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi called the killing a "horrific crime" and urged the Security Council to "stop the escalation of killing and violence by armed gangs and government military forces," the Reuters news agency reports.

The opposition Free Syrian Army says it can no longer commit to the ceasefire unless the Security Council can ensure civilians are protected, the AFP news agency reports.

An activist in Houla told the Associated Press that troops began the assault on Houla after an anti-regime demonstration following Muslim prayers on Friday.

The assault began with artillery shelling which killed 12, he said - but scores more were butchered when pro-regime thugs known as "shabiha" then stormed the area.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 90 people had died in the 24 hours since midday on Friday.

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said more than 110 people died and urged the UN Security Council to act, AFP news agency reported.

Among the dead were more than 56 children, the SNC's Ausama Monajed told the BBC.

He said the regime was selecting vulnerable towns to "teach the entire country a lesson".

"It is beyond humanity what we have seen," he said.

Activists have called a day of mourning.

Horrific video footage has emerged of dozens of dead children, covered in blood, their arms and legs strewn over one another. It is unverified, but our correspondent says such images would be difficult to fake.

In one instance, six members of a family were killed when their house was shelled, the Observatory said.

International media cannot report freely in Syria and it is impossible to verify reports of violence.

The BBC's correspondent Paul Wood and cameraman Fred Scott report from the rebel stronghold of Rastan

Some of the 260 UN observers now in the country visited the Houla area after the assault, but there are no reports yet on what they found.

'Evidence of shelling'

Meanwhile, in a letter to the Security Council, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the Syrian opposition controlled "significant parts of some cities".

He said that "established terrorist groups" could have been behind some of the recent bomb blasts in Syria judging from the sophistication of the attacks.

He said the situation remained "extremely serious" and urged states not to arm either side in the conflict.

Earlier this month, a bombing in Damascus left 55 dead in an attack which the government blamed on al-Qaeda. The attack came amid mounting fears that the terrorist group was taking advantage of the conflict to gain a foothold.

Mr Ban said Syria "has not ceased the use of, or pulled back, their heavy weapons in many areas" - one of the requirements of Mr Annan's peace plan.

"On several occasions, UNSMIS has heard the sound, or seen evidence, of shelling in population centres," he said.

On Thursday, a UN-mandated panel said Syrian security forces were to blame for most abuses in the conflict, which has continued despite the presence of the UN observers.

Mr Annan's six-point peace agreement ordered a cessation of violence on 12 April. While casualties appeared to fall after the truce, the fighting quickly resumed to previous levels.

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