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. Jules

    This is really sad. Why don't any of their neighbors come in and help. You would think someone in that region would have a conscience.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lagos

      All of their neighbors are busy creating their own atrocities, albeit on a smaller, quieter scale. They also would love nothing more than for western powers to intervene to use as an example of "western imperialism".

      May 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hamurabi

      Lagos: you are so ignoarant and so ridiculous!

      May 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • NK

      The only country that would truly care and protect the Syrians are the Israelis. As an Italian Catholic American, we are lucky to have such a great ally in that crazy part of the world

      May 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ray

    – Where is Obama on Syria and this heinous massacre – why is he so quite on this and on Syria ?

    May 28, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • D. Darko

      You do not understand international politics. Obama's hands are tied. Russia will back the Syrian dictator until the end. Taking military action in Syria is out of the question, for so many reasons. The US President cannot always be Superman, as much as we would like that to happen. This ain't the movies.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    In typical fashion the world issues rhetoric unless economic interests are involved.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. lailaq

    they say Islam is a peaceful religion

    May 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • lailaq

      so these butcherings occured right after friday prayers, just wondering what kind of a peaceful religion this is

      May 28, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      tired of reading this post time after time.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • ericgoestoholland

      Islam is a peaceful religion (as much as Judaism and Christianity). Islamic extremism is not.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      lailaq – please this exact post has beeen posted about 17 trilllion times – it's not funny, or even wry now if it ever was.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • lailaq

      @ Ronald Hussein Reagan ...u typically sound like Assad himself. I bet u wld qualify for his militia

      May 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hamurabi

      Crusaders killed more than anybody. Two atomic bombs were used by a Christian nation, Hitler was not a Muslim, Genocide of the Native Americans was committed by non Muslims, and African Americans were slaves and treated like animals by non Muslim, Non Muslims are murdering Palestinian babies and children, YOU IGNORANT, PITIFUL CREATURE! During the civil war in America Christians killed Christians, fathers killed sons, sons killed fathers. Don't you get that?What is happening in Syria is a civil war!

      May 28, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americal69

      Alawites are a curiosity of the Islam world. They take communion and believe in the trinity. the Sunnis through the Base will take power if they can. they are heretics to all but themselves. the writer further up is correct in that Israel has already cleared the Golan Heights to welcome them if/when necessary

      May 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ItsaSadDayWhen

    that is just it, nO , NO ONE in that REGION has a conscience .

    May 28, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. saywhat

    Humans gone insane. Tragic and frustrating. Outside forces to be sure.
    As I wrote earlier on another thread.
    Arab League has to do more than be a bystander.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Everett Wallace

    WE shall show you the meaning of "THUG" assad and regime and supporters.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Chuckles

    The naivety. Obviously, women's rights only matter when they can vote.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. saywhat

    @ lailaq
    nothing to do with Islam.
    Anti Bashar forces both from the west and the region, purely a balance of power struggle.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • OBSERVER

      The violence, intolerance and human rights abuses in Muslim countries has everything to do with Islam and Islamic culture. You can't kid anyone but yourself anymore. Islam is pure evil and the sooner Muslims realize it and either renounce or reform it, the sooner they will have peace.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • lailaq

      well I dont think the infidels are butcherings children and women.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • American

      So what you are saying is, a muslim welding a knife, shooting children in the name of a power struggle is okay. It must be okay to the muslim world since no one is helping. You are all amimals.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jschmidt

    This should be broadcast and the perpetrators brought to justice. But someone will broker a deal so that Bashar will be allowed to go to some country without prosecution. This is obscene and the UN is incapable of dealing with it. NATO should by supplying the insurgents and put a few well placed missiles in the Damascus.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. de

    Everyone is waiting on the US to step in. That's what we do best....... fight everyone's battles for them.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      I have actually noticed that and found it hypocritical, but those people are facing violent deaths and they are just praying for anyone to come and save them.

      But of course as well all know, the US won't step in unless they have an interest in there. Which is probably why we haven't heard a peep from the office about this situation.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Peaches

    Has anyone given any thought to the majority of the dead being children and what that is saying to the resistance?
    I see this being a bold message. Hence; We will kill the *future* of the resistance. Get it?

    May 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Irrelevant

      Duh. The are also the most vulnerable and unlikely to have weapons to fight back. Get a clue.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Patrish

    American can't do this alone, it must be a join effort. 'But Russia, a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad...' blah, blah, blah. I really want to to Bashar's head on platter. I feel so sorry for the poor people that live there. They deserve better, no matter what their religion is!!

    May 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Irrelevant

    Islam – THE most violent "religion" EVER!

    May 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      Remember when Hitler did the same to his people? That was one violent Muslim.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eve

      Hitler was an athiest. Apples and oranges much?

      May 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • lailaq

      like

      May 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Adam

    I'm sorry, to all those ignorant commenters what does this have to do with religion?

    I'm Muslim and this inhumane piece of trash Bashar is Muslim and the little children shot and killed were Muslims. What's your point? People are people, good and bad has nothing to do with religion.

    Perhaps you know my religion better than I do, but please show me where it says Muslims are allowed to kill kids no matter what their religion is for whatever reason.

    Have some compassion for those people instead of starting up arguments that have nothing to do with anything.

    Be a human-being and have some compassion.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
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