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

    You are 100% correct jimbob

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

    To Hell at this point with Russia and China! Their veto power in such instances of allowing such unspeakable genocidal atrocities to continue should be thrown OUT! Period. That is, If they imminently do not condemn these atrocities by Assad and back it up by a willingness by other Arab nations, Europe and US to cease withdraw immediately and entirely or to be subject to assault At this point there is most probably NO alternative, as much as we do not have a taste for entering another conflict – when we are talking about the brutal slaughter comparable to Bosnia and Nazi regime we need as a global consciousness eliminate this disease!!!!!

    May 28, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Prof Van Nostros

    The USA and people of USA should be proud to be able to help those oppressed and needlessly murdered. It we are not the policemen of the world, then who is? Are you waiting for the Chineese to step in and help? Good luck waiting for that to happen. Lets get our USA boys in there with Nato backing and UN support...NOW! This has dragged on too long already. -PVN

    May 28, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RF Burns

    Good thing we have the UN.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. shahid zamir

    i cant stop my tears , muted cant say any thing god is watching !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 28, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sadness

    It's a shame they don't have oil or the US would intervene.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lharrahill1800

    Reblogged this on minorproblems and commented:
    Really puts into perspective what it means to be in a free country

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

    Sorry, the Arab world has specifically told us they don't want our help. That we are invaders....let's give them what they want. What can we do? In afgh. the Al Qaueda treated Women and children like animals, now that we're their all they do is march and protest and burn our flags saying they want us out. Just stay away.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin

    More failed Obama international policies...from the spectator president. If he can't be the center of attention, he has no use for anything. Shame on him. Let this be on his soul.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jim

    Let's cluck our tongues and shake our heads – because it is clear that those who say the U.S. cannot be the "world's policeman" are winning this dispute. Personally, I agree – we lost too many in Iraq and Afghanistan and have little to show for it. If we overturn the Syrian regime, too, we will have just another government being led by the Muslim Brotherhood, threatening Israel.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. charvez

    You can sell them drugs, all you like, do not shot, axe or knife them.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mac Olsen

    It just demonstrates what a bunch of moral cowards we have in terms of the United Nations. They won't lift a finger to stop the oppression in Syria. But NATO was sure in there like a dirty shirt to overthrow Ghadaffi in Libya. As far as I'm concerned, the UN should be abolished and countries like the United States should lead efforts to depose and eliminate dictators and war criminals like Assad.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      Hitler,Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao are in a euphoric state. Saddam is also delighted but is on the waiting list of the evil club because he killed relatively fewer people.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yaldram

      How many proofs muslims need that Allah hate them wherever they are? Look at Qatar, Bahrain, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Mali and rest of the world. Allah is determined to give them as much misery as possible. Majority of them is muslim killing muslim and once in a while a drone do the trick. On average 100 muslim die every day. But they still think they are the blessed and righteous and Allah will come to their rescue. Asinine!

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

      Yes, our effectiveness at THAT has been on display in Afghanistan and Iraq for the past few years. We are SO good at taking countries apart and putting them back together again, aren't we? Or not.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reason & Logic

      Don't blame the UN, blame Russia & China for their vetoes. Rather than disband the UN, kick Russia and China out and the UN would be a functional body.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • jdoe

      Yeah? What's stopping the U.S. from doing it right now? Talk is cheap.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mowat

      I agree except the US and its allies are not likely to rid the Syrian people of Assad – because Israel likes what's happening there.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Overly Idealistic

    Why can't people just get along? Seriously? You do have to wonder though, what were the murderer-soldier-people thinking? I don't see how anyone could kill little kids, I just can't. I'd shoot the people giving the orders. However, it seems like there's always an overabundance of crazies for different people to order around. Just once I'd like to see some evil dictator dude try to come to power when nobody agrees to follow him. It just wouldn't work. So why do people follow them?

    May 28, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. fedup

    this is obviously the handiwork of american mercenaries. the only corrective measures are
    1,,immediately disarm each and every american
    2. make the american government completely subservient to the united nations;
    5. quadruple allamerican taxes and remit them to the united nations;
    4. put hilary clinton in charge if it a


    May 28, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mac

    It just shows how much contempt we should have for the United Nations. They're moral cowards. They won't lift a finger to stop the genocide in Syria, but NATO goes in like a dirty shirt in Libya to overthrow Ghadaffi. Abolish the United Nations and let the U.S. take the lead in deposing and eliminating war criminals like Assad.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      Agree with abolishing UN. Russia China and US should divide up the world. I bet with enough discussion they could come to an agreement. Every zoo has a zoo keeper. The world is a zoo. Russia China and US should be the keepers. The UN is a hoax. It's presence is littering NYC. Get rid of it.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
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