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. Jason

    ask yourself a question why would a military with guns tanks ect "knife and axe" people to death?!? Does that make any sense to you? It's media's attempt to get you sheeple all stirred up in a " "Invade Syria" frenzy. CNN has already been caught fabricating stories. This one here sounds ludicris. News like this is for the "misinformed". It's clear to some of use what is happening. Iraq Libiya, Syria, Iran, Lebenon, Will all be invaded under the pretext of "HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION" when will you guys get your heads out your ass?

    May 28, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      @Jason

      I could give you 100 examples of a military with tanks and guns using knives and axes to kill civilians. Go read a history book or two, it won't take long to see that this has in fact happened many times in the past. You're not a tenth as smart as you think you are.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. charvez

    if you sell drugs and murder 1000's it seems to be OKAY

    May 28, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. David

    Yeah Jimbob, and you work for the Assad regime. Nice try, but no one is going to believe your lies.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Peter

    I hope they drag Assad out into the streets and provide him with a slow, horrible death. This monster needs to hang for what he's doing.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. abbydelabbey

    What will it take for the UN to intervene? When every child is dead? This is so sickening. It breaks my heart. Prayers for the innocents of Syria....

    May 28, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Me2

    That's a bunch of crap, it was Assad's government and you know it...

    May 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. winstonsmith

    I think if we can help we should help. I disagree with statements like: "NO world power will or CAN involve itself in local problems unless there is a specific matter that effects that world power."

    People are very selfish. HOWEVER... the problem is, the question that should be asked is CAN we help? As in, will we actually make things better, or not? I think Libya is a better model than Iraq... help the rebels only to an extent, but don't promise anything and after you win, then it's up to them. And if the rebels end up making just as brutal of a regime, well, when that's ready to fall then we'll help again. Countries do evolve, they do change, this is also the way of things.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les

      It would take little effort to locate all the government leaders of Syria and bomb them out of existence. The murder of innocent civilians is NEVER an acceptable type of behavior. The worst thing about it is that Syria's neighbors do not take the actions needed to destroy the madmen running the country. And what the hell is Israel doing to stop the massecres? Nothing. Both they and the Arab nations around Syria have blood on their hands also.

      Russia and China should both get in the fray and wipe the current Syrian government off the face of the planet. Syria is their ally and it is their responsibility to take out these monsters. So long as the US, Israel, Russia and China turn a blind eye, the blood of the innocents lies on their heads.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jtan

    No one believes this lie. The city was besieged by the government troops when the massacre happened.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Abu Bakr

    AMERRIIKKAAAA !!! You infidels do not interfere !! This is Arab foreplay !! None of your business !!! Stay out !!! We are enjoying ourselves. This is normal day in Arab city !!!

    May 28, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • thatguy

      haha don't make us invade another one of your countries

      May 28, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dscon

    oh wait....i've decided that all of everyones posts are irrelevant.......
    wow, the power.........i love it.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. okie

    one good sniper is all that is needed

    May 28, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jason

    some people will believe anything CNN reports. FORGET all the independent evidence that doesn't fit nicely with there SOURCE OF TRUTH. they have no desire to leave that little comfortable box they live in. And in all there ignorance stick there chest out lift there chin up and call everyone conspiracy theorists. Hey as far as I can tell conspiracy theorist is the new word for " SHUT UP, YOU KNOW TO MUCH!!"

    May 28, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Yellow

    It doesn't make sense for Syrian regime to do this, there's no political or military incentive to it. It would only make them look maniacal in the eyes of the world. And this is exactly why it is the rebels who have the motivation to carry this through. At a very brutal cost.

    US State Dept. has it's own agenda, and its' cozy relationship with CNN is blatantly obvious here. Many will be fooled, no doubt. Too bad the innocent children had to be butchered to sway the masses. Shame.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • jeremy

      You're right. Maybe Hillary should "condemn" them some more to get them to stop. What has our workd come to?

      May 28, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Dictators do not require "sense" they are driven by egos and will kill people that stand in their way. Much like Saddam gassing entire villages. Did that make sense??

      May 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • dscon

      UN/MBrohood effort to make iran irrelevant and dominate the region......factionwise that is.

      May 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. N8tball33

    Jimboob,

    climb back under the rock that you have been hiding under. the world is still flat. Assad needs to be removed with EXTREME PREJUDICE. This animal needs to be removed from the face of this earth. It is Men like him and Hitler that make the human race look like ?????????????????

    May 28, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • jimbob

      You have no objective sourcing for your slanders. We do know for certain that the Muslim Brotherhood that the US has been empowering for 30 years is indeed the ideological disciple of Adolf Hitler, and that the Muslims that the US government has deemed 'moderate' (you know, the ones loved by dhimmi Carter) espouse nazi ideology constantly.

      Thus, you'll need something a bit more reliable than, 'Assad is evil because CNN says so'. CNN also thinks that Jewish landowners that resist ethnic cleansing are also evil. CNN has approximately zero credibility on such matters.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Welled

    Butchered, slaughtered, massacre I have seen bloodbath and every other kind of descriptive adjective from CNN. Now children are no less knifed and axed without a doubt. I don't believe one word of it. Most people don't axe children to death. The Free Syrian Army are United States puppets. Kurds in the north of Syria. The Russian guy is in there. Being that both Russia and America are pumping oil in the Iraqi desert right along side of the Iranians. Should tell you how these nitwits do business. Syria is for Syrians. Not for the Russian. Or this countries big nose. 35k people died in auto wrecks some cut to ribbons last year. Some are crippled from the many years of auto accidents and some are maimed. Mind your own business you have done a whole lot of carange all over the world yourselves.

    May 28, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
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