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. sad

    God needs to step in

    May 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • GH

      L O L

      That's all that needs to be said.

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

      and how exactly would that look, flood, fire, tornado? why don't we just say a prayer asking for help, then we can sleep at night knowing God will help, just like everyone else who goes to church every Sunday, pays their dues, and watches American Idol , "LOL" or maybe you prefer Jersey Shore, sorry but for the sarcasm, but really, really? f

      May 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • sure

      and how exactly would that look, flood, fire, tornado? why don't we just say a prayer asking for help, then we can sleep at night knowing God will help, just like everyone else who goes to church every Sunday, pays their dues, and watches American Idol , "LOL" or maybe you prefer Jersey Shore, sorry but for the sarcasm, but really, really?

      May 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. NK

    We should have never gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan but absolutely need to take out Ahmadinejad in Iran and his puppet country, Syria. You change Iran and Syria and you could see real peace in the Middle East.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • spockmonster

      agreed

      May 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. spockmonster

    If the American Government were to treat it's citizens like this, I would hope the U.N. would intervene and save my children.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • 84hgaurt

      Don't rely on the government to save you. You'll be disappointed.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunshine100

      Oh, SpockMonster, sweetie, if the USA collapses into such barbaric behaviour, no one will come to our rescue unless Europe bands together and saves our bacon before China invades us.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Reality

    So how is this different from Haditha massacre ?

    May 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • adam

      I don't know. I do feel sorry for the Syrian people, but how come CNN never put reports like this when it comes to Israel bombing the hell out of the Palestinian people. My friend, its scary out there and CNN is one of the most biased networks. Should we switch to the Haaretz news, Israeli's report more about Israel's crimes than the CNN.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • whocares

      All these "massacres" are created by the Americans. All the middle east strife is manufactured by Americans. All of this has sprung from the head of those Americans who conspired to blow up the world trade center on 9/11/01 and to blame the Muslims everywhere for their crimes. Syria has been a peaceful and modern great country for many years with little strife, and a decent economy. Things would be just fine today if the criminals from the United States hadn't destroyed their country due to internal corruption and greed. Now they are getting soaked paying their debts to China. Screw the USA. Let their own country fall, and leave Syria and the others to live in peace.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • roger

      @ reality – if you HAVE to ask you really don't want to know but Ill try. Hidatha was an exception to US military and government practice and policy. Houla was not. We accepted responsibility for the act, investigated, and prosecuted the Marines responsible. Syria is blaming someone else. Hidatha is far, far outside the norms of conduct for US forces. Arabs constantly use terror as a weapon of choice. Now I expect you to dispute this. Its what you people do. But those out there who don't suffer from terminal "blame America-itis" will also read this and, maybe, understand that we make mistakes. These people do it deliberately. THATS the difference. And why does this have to be explained to you?

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

      Well for one, 19 people were killed in Haditha. Also, Haditha was the act of one over stressed unit vs. a systematic killing policy of the state using paramilitary gangs (ex Shabiha) to crush a revolt. This doesn't make Haditha acceptable but they are in fact quite different objectively speaking. Either way they are both terrible and part of war.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Glh1

    The US government has pledged to aid people fighting for freedom for decades, if they ask. Yet when people fighting for freedom – heck, for their lives – in another country asks, the Republicans freak out. Guess they only want to "help" if they can impose their brand of democracy on oil-producing nations. Disgusting.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • roger

      @glh1. Republicans freak out? Its the Democrats who are tripping over themselves to sell the Afghans out because its "too hard"!! Better check your facts. US involvement in Syria when there is a viable government in place who probably has chemical and maybe nuke capability isn't bright. Even Biden knows that!

      May 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. We are the World

    Assad's day in the nuclear sun should be soon!

    May 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      callling for a nuclear strike is the post for people without the time or the mental equipment to actually think.

      May 29, 2012 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ct

    Oh you are shocked by this? Never seen dead children? It's going on all over. Walk outside and be thankful you have what you do while we still have it. Clock is ticking

    May 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Vivek

    Though we hate Asad, it's very clear that these incidents are perpetrated by the rebels on their enemies and rival tribes and this is used as propaganda to blame Government forces and to incite more violence. Even if Government forces were doing this there was no need for them to wear Government Military uniform. It's also clear from the Government occupied areas being ghost towns and other parts of the city openly talking to UN Media. Rebels may even be killing the people who don't want to move out from Government occupied cities. Majority of people just want to live their lives and take care of their family and they are now caught between two Evils.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bassam

      I am a Lebanese citizen and survived what the Syrians did to whoever opposed them. I don't believe that anyone has the right to even doubt that this might have not been done by the syrian regime. It's a rerun of Hafez Al Assad massacre in Hamah in the 80s and non-stop massacres in Lebanon. So please spare me that the Syrian regime couldn't do it coz they did and did many in Lebanon.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Syria has no oil

    Syria has no oil. The only words from the world communities are concern, concern, conern. Reporting and digesting for another horrified news and concern, concern, concern until the number of innocent victims reach over 100,000 that's when the rescue come. How sad to see so many innocent murdered like this.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. adam

    I think Asaad is enjoying killing his people while the U.S and the rest of the world is watching. The Russian and Chinese Veto power is not the reason NATO hasn't bombed him yet. the reason is the outcome. The U.S is still not ready for the Islamic movement that is coming out of all this.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Baruch

    These horrific accounts are heartbreaking. So are the accounts of US drones murdering children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries. Today we remember ALL the war dead, including the civilians killed by the USA.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. kbs

    I'm speechless. it breaks myt heart to know this is going on, so many of these acts in differect countries do not make it on to CNN. This is just on of the places that made it to the news. How many more places is this happening to and we aren't even aware of it.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. donny

    some one needs to help them poor people. i cant get over them killing kids.. and the world sets back and just watches...

    May 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jan wheeler

    Can't someone bomb these Syrian killers back to the ice-age? And charge Assad with War Crimes and put him on trial - soon before he sanctions the killing of any more women and babies. These crimes against his people are horrific.

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

    These killings have all the trade mark of a terrorist group. These people were not killed by the Regine shelling, they were killed at closed range in very inhumane way. The Western governments as usual are quick to blame the Assad Regime without knowning the facts behind the matter. Similar kinds of killings are going on in Libya's prisons or make believe prisons, however the Western countries are closing the eyes to those attrocities because they are being commited by the peolpe NATO supported to overthrow Gaddafi. Absolutely disgusting.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
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