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. joe

    it is in our destiny to destroy ourselves. the next major extinction will be us because of us. a major drag.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • JKt4oiuat

      I believe you are correct. Maybe another species will evolve to rule the earth and be able to co-exist with the rest of it's kind.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bill

    It is ironic that the regime labels the rebels as "terrorists" since the regime's actions meet the dictionary definition of "terrorist." They are killing non-combatants to effect political change - in this case, a rebel surrender.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. KnowNow2

    Syrian's killing Syrian's and John McCain along with CNN think the US is some sort of magic solution to this problem, CNN say Syrian are disgusted with the rest of the world, well we are disgusted with Syria. As soon as they drag the US into this mess they will start killing our soilders with IED. We need to stay the hell out of Syria, let them clean up their own mess.

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


    May 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ava Velez

    As much as I detest the Syrian regime, I cannot believe they would stoop so low as to commit such a hideous crime. This act, in my opinion, has all the hallmarks of Al Qaeda.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indisbelief

      Really???????????/ Are you that gosh darn stupid?????????

      May 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunshine100

      This barbaric, bronze-age-style massacre is so horribly horrendous that I, too, find it hard to believe that the Syrian military leadership would be in charge of this hideous action! Al Qaeda, on the other hand, has committed similarly barbaric tactics throughout the Middle East and the world. I think there needs to be a thorough investigation by a third party other than the UN. Switzerland, perhaps? In fact, the UN's "military" is totally ineffective, a laughing stock to all military forces, and by it's neutrality during attacks on civilians creates dispair, hopelessness, anger and antipathy towards the "civilized" world; disband this ridiculous and puppet military force immediately.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. GH

    Kofi Annan should be shot outright for aiding and abetting the massacre that is taking place in Syria. Even if this fool believes that his cynical ceasefire plan can work, it is providing both cover and concealment for the Syrian regime to do as it pleases. At worst, I think this bearded black fool is simply trying to root up a Nobel prize.

    Here is to a 7.62 round finding Mr. Annan's forehead in the country that he is hurting.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Derek

    If there was every a reason to send troops, this seems like a good one.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • sdchick

      I agree. WHY US IS NOT DOING ANYTHING???????????????

      May 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • liu

      If we are really lucky, our Tea Party can gin up another war, spend zillions of dollars, and then cut all social wellfare out of the budget to balance it. We can become a third world country and the Right wing oligarchs can rule. Rove and Norquist and Murdoch will be ecstatic.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lorna

    I'm sure everyone agrees the violence is horrible in Syria. The US needs to stay out of it! Keep the US military out of Syria! Our troops have seen enough war. These other countries need to work out their own problems instead of expecting someone else to bail them out and do the dirty work for them. US servicemembers need to get back to their own families. Be outraged all you want. Until you pick up a weapon and fight, don't volunteer others to do it for you! These issues are nothing new and happen all over the world all the time throughout history. THE US DOES NOT NEED TO GET INVOLVED!!!

    May 28, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • annie

      I totally agree. If for some reason we do go, then there needs to be an immediate draft and a war tax. Everyone needs to feel this. In fact, if a draft (everyone–no exceptions–can work in the armed forces, either stateside if there is a medical issue or age to limit combat, or in combat arms–no deferrals) and a tax are implemented, I bet no one will want to go to war.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indisbelief

      I agree but also disagree. We, as human beings, have to stop fratricide. These innocents need to have some help and unfortunately these other countries just seem hell bent on destroying everyone and everything. I do not want our troops to go in and have to face another war, really I don't. However, we seem to be the only ones that are capable and have some sort of common sense and decency.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      Spot on! Anyway, there is no oil for the 1%!

      May 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. annie

    This is disgusting, but now the repubs are calling for more decisive action with Syria, and I think that they mean war. I do not want another war over this. We can't fix all the problems in Middle East.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • liu

      We can't fix ANY of the problems in the Middle East. We can even fix the ones right in the USA. They need to figure things out for themselves.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. DellStator

    This certainly shows the total impotence of the United Nations, exposing them as nothing more than a good excuse for the friends of a couple of hundred despot regimes aroung the world to enjoy life in NYC. Really, that's all the UN is to most countries, that and a place they can collect bribes for voting, like the land locked countries that sell their votes to continue whaling. I know the US stopped contributing a while ago in protest of the anti American PR most UN agencies, or all UN agencies spread. Ted Turner paid them at one time. I pray we are still not paying out UN dues (the largest of any country in the world by FAR).
    Also shows the peaceful Arab people, and their religion for what they are, despotic excuses for those in charge to do whatever they want to stay in power, get rich, then get richer.
    Lets not leave the western world off the hook though, after all, Libya was nice gov't compared to this disgrace, and the West felt compleded to 'change regiemes', I'm sure all the Euro Oil Cos invested in Libya had nothing to do with that. Syria though, no oil, so the West joins the rest of the world doing nothing. How long did it take for the UN through NATO to intervene in Bosnia, YEARS. Syrian rebels should take note of that.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Myriam Gomez

    Como es posible que la comunidad internacional permanezca sin hacer nada realmente efectivo frente a estos barbaricos hechos de violencia, que asesinan a gente inocente como ninos y mujeres. Que tanto los grupos terroristas como las autoridades sirias sean castigados por estos crimenes humanitarios. Que culpa tiene esos ninos inocentes frente a la barabarie humana de esta gente. Que por favor se detenga la violencia y la destruccion de vidas inocentes,

    May 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. charvez

    Do know how many people are martered [murdered slowing] to death in central and south america a day by the police and soldiers, so sort out your own back yard before you come over here, it's all political porpaganda

    May 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indisbelief

      Yeah and unfortunately Central and South America look to the US for help. Why doesn't Central and South America start with their own backyard? I do not see Central and South America helping anyone, especially themselves.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kiki

    I gotten to the point if they want to kill their own kind, so be it.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DPatriot

    Monstrous ...this has to stop

    May 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Billy


    May 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • 84hgaurt

      Yep. 7 billion animals.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
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