The international community condemned the “unimaginable” killing of more than 90 people in the Syrian town of Houla, prompting the government of President Bashar al-Assad to deny a role in the violence.
General Robert Mood, head of the United Nations observers in Syria, said the circumstances of the killing of civilians in Houla were still unclear. UN observers are in the village gathering information and will report to the world body as soon as their work is complete, Mood told Al Jazeera television in a telephone interview today. He described the violence as “unimaginable.”
The U.S. condemned the acts after “credible” reports of violence in the town, “including stabbing and ax attacks on women and children,” according to a White House statement. France and the U.K. urged increased international support after the May 25 violence in the town in Homs province, an area of resistance against the rule of Assad.
More than 32 children under the age of 10 and more than 60 adults were killed in the town, according Mood, who yesterday cited UN military and civilian observers who viewed the bodies. The observers confirmed the use of artillery and tank shells fired at a residential neighborhood in an attack that Mood called a “brutal tragedy.”
In Washington, U.S. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, called the U.S. response to the massacre “a shameful episode” which he said highlighted failures in the foreign policy of President Barack Obama.
“This administration has a feckless foreign policy which abandons American leadership,” McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential race to Democrat Obama, said on “Fox News Sunday” today. He called Syria “a brutal regime” and said Obama’s approach is “an abdication of everything America stands for and believes in.”
Gunmen funded by foreign powers were responsible for the slaying, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters in Damascus today. International officials blaming Syrian troops for the attack are jumping to conclusions and accusations against the government were part of a “tsunami of lies” that Syria is being subjected to, he said.
“We categorically deny any involvement” in the attack, Makdissi said at a news conference, adding that the government has formed a committee to investigate the “brutal” killings. The findings are expected in three days, he said.
Syria says it is fighting foreign terrorists, armed gangs and Islamists, and blames countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. for aiding the opposition.
“These acts serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality,” said Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council. The U.S. is “horrified” by the killings, she said.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview from Coventry that according to information his group received from people in the vicinity, the victims perished in government shelling of Houla.
“It’s normal for Makdissi to defend the government,” he said. “We would like to know where were the shells that the government was firing till late at night falling?” Rahman called for the formation of an international committee to investigate the bloodshed and that the perpetrators of the Houla massacre “be brought to justice.”
A further 60 people were killed in Syria yesterday, the Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mail yesterday. The United Arab Emirates called for a meeting of the Arab League to discuss the attack, the state-run news agency WAM reported, citing Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the killings “an appalling crime” and said the U.K. would be calling for an “urgent” meeting of the UN Security Council. The international community must stop the “martyrdom of the Syrian people,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
The killing hasn’t stopped since Assad agreed to a peace plan by UN special envoy Kofi Annan two months ago. His forces have killed more than 10,000 people since March 2011 when protests began as part of the wave of uprisings in the Middle East, according to UN estimates.
Annan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement yesterday condemning “this appalling and brutal crime” and demanding that Syria’s government “immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers.”
The UN now has 271 unarmed military observers for Syria and expects to have a full contingent of 300 there by the end of this month, according to Ban.