May 28th, 2012
12:59 PM ET

Children shot, knifed, axed to death in Syria's Houla massacre, reports say

The livid white-haired Syrian’s question to the U.N. blue helmet was rhetorical. He didn’t expect a real answer, not to that question.

“Did the infant carry an RPG?” he asked angrily, gesturing wildly, his hands clad in red rubber gloves.

He had washed the bodies of nine slain children already, one of whom was not even a year old, he told the U.N. observer. He wanted to know why. That question he actually wanted answered. The observer appeared overwhelmed.

Why are they treating us like animals?” the man demanded.

It was an understatement. Across Houla, an anti-regime suburb of Homs, images emerged indicating people there had been treated like something less than animals. The bodies of 108 people killed, most of them women and children, filled rooms, rugs and the backs of trucks.

Children were missing limbs. Others suffered gaping head and chest wounds. Images showed children sprawled on blood-smeared floors, their lifeless eyes staring into oblivion, their clothing torn and stained crimson. While many young victims were apparently shot, there were reports that children had been stabbed to death or attacked with axes.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the United States was horrified by "credible reports" of the massacre, "including stabbing and ax attacks on women and children."

In one video posted online, a man shows a room full of dead bodies covered with sheets. He pulls back one and asks Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a pointed question: “Here are the children. What was their crime, Bashar? What was their crime, Arabs?”

The Syrian regime, which has been locked in warfare with rebels for more than a year, has blamed the deaths – many victims were apparently shot point blank with small arms – on terrorists, including al Qaeda. The Syrian regime often blames civilian deaths on terrorists and labels rebels as such.

Several envoys, including those from Germany, Britain and France, aren’t buying it, and rebels say the massacre essentially tosses a U.N.-brokered ceasefire out the window.

It’s difficult to say what exactly happened Friday after morning prayers because much of Houla is now abandoned, its witnesses having fled to rebel-held positions in the city. It doesn’t help that Syria limits foreign journalists’ access, leaving most media outlets to vet the heavy stream of YouTube videos coming out of the country.

Also confounding coverage is that some of the footage coming out of Houla is so gruesome as to be – as one British broadcaster called it – “unbroadcastable.”

Yet some things have been widely reported, and it appears most witnesses and human-rights organizations concur that the mass killings began with a protest early Friday afternoon.

Protests had been planned in the capital of Damascus and in various locations in Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces that day. The shelling in Houla began shortly after 2 p.m., according to Human Rights Watch, after soldiers at an army checkpoint in the nearby village of Taldou opened fire to disperse demonstrators. Houla is a largely Sunni Muslim enclave surrounded by Shiite and Alawite villages, the latter being the sect to which al-Assad belongs.

Rebels attacked the checkpoint, and “the Syrian army responded by shelling various neighborhoods in Houla,” HRW stated in a press release.

First, tanks began shelling the neighborhood at about 2:30 p.m., and the mortar fire began a couple of hours later, all emanating from the air force military college located at Houla’s entrance.

"Around 7:00 p.m., the shelling intensified and whole buildings were shaking. The army started firing some sort of rockets that would shake an entire area,” the news release states.

Several reports indicate this was about the time that armed men in military uniforms began attacking homes, and HRW reported that dozens of the dead were from the Abdel Razzak family that lives in eight or nine adjacent homes near the dam on the outskirts of town.

A mother and her 10-year-old boy, both of whom belonged to the family, recalled hearing an inordinate number of gunshots. The mother took the boy to a barn to hide, and her son told HRW he heard men shouting and women crying.

He peeked out the window occasionally, fearing he might be spotted if he watched for too long. Men wearing uniforms or camouflage entered his home, he said.

“Then across the street I saw my friend Shafiq, 13 years old, outside standing alone. An armed man in military uniform grabbed him and put him at the corner of a house. He took his own weapon and shot him in the head. His mother and big sister – I think she was 14 years old – went outside and started shouting and crying. The same man shot at both of them more than once,” he said.

His mother said she and the boy came out from hiding after the rebel Free Syria Army arrived.

“I saw Shafiq on the ground dead. I saw three families: three women, two of them with children. All of them were shot. Some were shot in the head and others had multiple shots in the body,” she told HRW. “One of the children survived. She is 14 years old. She was shot twice in the leg. I also saw my cousin who was shot in the chest. A 13-year-old boy who was paralyzed was shot three times in his chest as well."

Many witnesses are pointing fingers at the regime or pro-regime civilian militiamen known as the Shabiha. A woman in her late 50s told the Syrian Network of Human Rights how the Shabiha punished one member of the Abarra family, according to The Telegraph in London.

She “confirmed that the Shabiha handcuffed the children of Abarra family and told the father to look at their children, how they will be killed in front of his eyes, before they killed him,” the group told the newspaper.

An elderly woman recounted a similar scene for HRW, saying she was in a house with 10 family members when she heard gunshots and a man’s voice in another room.

“I hid behind the door. I saw another man standing outside by the entrance door and another one inside the house. They were wearing military clothes. I couldn’t see their faces,” she told the group.

She thought they were searching the house, but a few minutes later, she heard family members screaming. The children, none older than 14, began crying.

“I went down on the floor and tried to crawl so I could see what was happening. As I approached the door, I heard several gunshots,” she said. “I looked outside the room and saw all of my family members shot. They were shot in their bodies and their head.”

Too terrified to see if they were alive, the woman crawled to the back door and fled the home.

“I was in shock so I don’t know what happened later,” she told HRW.

A woman in a black abaya told Britain’s Channel 4 that the gunmen were killing entire families and showing no mercy to women and children.

“When they knocked on the door, we told them there were no men at home, only women and children, but one of them went inside and cornered everybody and started shooting. I lost four children and other relatives,” she said.

Though the government denies responsibility for the massacre and blames the rebels, a British reporter noted that residents of Houla have fled the parts of town controlled by the Syrian army.

“There are lots of civilians in the rebel-held areas,” said Alex Thomson of CNN affiliate ITN. “They are not apparently frightened of the fighters. They are speaking openly to the United Nations … In the areas of the town held by the army, there is nobody. It's a ghost town."

German Ambassador Peter Wettig said there was "clear evidence" connecting the government to the deaths. "The evidence is not murky, and there is a clear footprint of the government in this massacre," Wettig said.

Martin Brines, the French deputy ambassador, said a briefing by the head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria "clearly shows the responsibility of the Syrian government in failing to protect its civilians as well, as attacking them directly."

But Russia, a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, believes "it still remains unclear what happened and what triggered what," as Russian charge d'affaires Alexander Pankin put it.

Despite a ceasefire brokered last month by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office, hundreds of civilians have been killed in Syria in the last six weeks. U.N. officials say more than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands more displaced since the March 2011 uprising. Opposition groups peg the death toll at closer to 11,000.

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Filed under: Human rights • Protest • Syria • World
soundoff (707 Responses)
  1. Joelc

    What??? This is a foolish comment.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mpa

    MIT Romney is looking like a good idea at this point. He would not be standin around on the sidelines like Obama while we are witnessing a holocaust.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • .

      US STAY OUT OF SYRIA. THE PEOPLE WHO ARE BEING KILLED HATE US JUST AS MUCH AS THE PEOPLE WHO ARE KILLING THEM.

      It's a win/win situation for the US.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joelc

    Satan lives on in this region?

    May 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    Of all the things you could say...that is what you choose?! One can safely assume you are as simple minded as your statement.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. PensacolaPet

    Russia and China can stop this. The pressure on them by the United States, UK, France, Germany, etc. to intervene should be being applied in a severe manner. This act on children is sickening. Thank God for the warning about the video and photographs, as I didn't need that image in the catalog of images in my brain.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. bill

    Take down the Iranian theocracy and most of this horror will stop.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • PensacolaPet

      And don't forget the Saudi theocracy.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • .

      How?

      May 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      This has nothing to do with iran, but if you want to go there, who assassinated their democratically elected leader in the 50's, um America. We cause most conflicts in this region.

      May 28, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mpa

    Really? Have you seen Obama do anything? History repeating itself. Remember the holocaust?

    May 28, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. .

    Obama is not a war monger. He's just a liberal president with failed economic policies. He will be voted out in November.

    Until that happens, just keep us out of Libya, Barry.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      He will? For whom? Romney that radically right high ranking CULT member. Not likely. Of course bush had 2 faux elections in a row so i guess anything is possible.

      May 28, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bigereads

      Bashir Assad learned well from his insane father how to assasinate his own people. Bashir is a vicious tyrant just like the rest of those tyrants who use their religion to subjugate their citizens. Without freedom life is nothing. As long as Assad and his family hold tightly to Syria's wealth and pass it down to their military, the poor citizens are nothing but dogs to them. NATO should be bombing them just like they did in Libya. Bomb the Assad palaces, kill his children and family members, kill his military and their family members. If Putin sticks his ugly nose in, ignore him. Russians can hardly afford a loaf of bread and Putin's big mouth has nothing to back it up. He cannot pay his soldiers and they desert their posts all the time. China has more troubles then it can handle. Russian and China are just posturing for effect. NATO you stopped the horror of Yugoslavis, stop Assad, now.

      May 28, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sadden

    I don't care if people say the US "meddles" in the affairs of other countries. We have to act and act now! This type of violence in unacceptable in any language, any religion, any race...
    If we are global citizens then we have an obligation to act. There are too many of us hiding behind our countries policies, or the fact that it's not our country, or the stupid line that 'they don't like us anyway so why should we help?" I am a human being planet earth and nothing, not my race, nationality, ...nothing is powerful enough to suppress the anger I feel when I see children slaughtered like that! If any of you fail to understand how and from where I draw my anger, then you shouldn't be wasting your time reading this. Because it's obvious you have bigger problems than the rest of us humans!

    May 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • .

      So I take it you're on your way to sign up.

      Right, Sadden?

      May 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Tel ya what when the 1% ers will FULLY fund that war, lets do it. The middle class and the poor can not spare anymore money to save another third worked country.

      May 28, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • hz

      oh, yes, we have to act and act now but please start with the children killed by us rogue soldier.......

      May 28, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. .

    Anyone who thinks we ought to get involved in Syria needs to go to the nearest induction center and sign up.

    Well?

    May 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mpa

    Obama=failure

    May 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Animenut

    More likely it is on your hands and everyone who makes stupid statements and does nothing,.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. .

    Anyone who thinks we should get involved needs to go to the nearest recruiting station and sign up.

    Now!

    May 28, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lorna

      Agreed! I'll pay for your passport, Sadden, and you can go express your anger in Syria!

      May 28, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cris PArker

    How do you figure? America cannot intervene without directly drawing Russia and China into the conflict. Speaking of which, Russia and China government are the directly responsible as without their support, no other nation can move against the Syrian government.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. meriwyle

    You would be wrong. As the article clearly states, the Syrian Government is the prime suspect in this most horrendous act.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
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