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. Kitty HaHa

    People who are here hating on Islam need to remember that the victims are Muslims. Syria is in a civil war, not a religious war.

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

      The main stream media sure like to pick their stories. Covering Syria in great detail and totally ignoring Bahrain. There are regimes the US wants gone and regimes that are US allies. Beating protestors at home and denying freedom of the press, relieves the US of the moral right to judge other countries.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • pockets46

      Where is allah in all this, where is god in all of see, they dont' exist, this is primates killing one another. There is no god's there is only religion and you know that Religion Poisons Everything.....RIP Hitch, you were right.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      On this memorial day, let's remember those in our past who fought against animals like this. We need to fight this regime as a coalition of Arab and UN soldiers and put Assad in prison. Doing nothing would dishonor those who fought against this ideology and died.

      May 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • omfarz

      As I said, the dogs of war has ben let loose by powerful external forces (not that the regime is being favored), but atleast there was not this much bloodshed...; Syria is now a strategic playground of powers beyond Assad - who cares about the humanity and the people....; religion and Allah should not be brought into this ...;religion is common to all humanity and it is the same God, regardless of we attempt to reach it and the vehicle we take...; so all believers have common ground here {Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus...}; this grisly spectacle of human suffering is a call to all of us who has humanity and the common ground, to do what they can to understand and resolve, within respective capacities...

      Here is good video by General Wesley Clark.

      May 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Williams

      """People who are here hating on Islam need to remember that the victims are Muslims. Syria is in a civil war, not a religious war."""

      Civil war, definitely.

      But what I find impressive is the lack of humanity of those who claim to follow Allah or God yet can kill children with such impunity.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • .

      Exactly. As long as they're killing each other. US stay out of it.

      May 28, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • .

      Who cares?

      May 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. steven harnack

    Another legacy of the Bush administration is that it is now commonplace for anyone in opposition to any regime, especially in the middle east, to be labeled a terrorist or a member of Al Qaeda. And the all encompassing "war on terror" legitimizes it.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Give me a break!

      You have to be the most ignorant person on here....and that is saying a lot if you have read the comments!!!!! Bush has been gone for over 3 years, GET OVER IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      May 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • .

      If it quacks like a duck, steven.......

      I suppose the Navy Seals were terrorists in your jaundiced eye?

      May 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • db

      ARe you one of the nutbags who blame all the problems of the Universe of Bush? He is histroy, has been for 3.5 years, what happend to all the HOPE AND CHANGE we were promised? Oh, that's right, we just incerased the bill to 15 trillion dollars to stuff the Dumbocrats pockets this time. Dumbocrats or Republicans are all the same, corrupt liers who will sell their soul out to the Devil to gain power and wealth, no difference what so ever.

      May 29, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. Nanci Eisner

    Man's inhumanity to man. There is no explanation for this kind of behavior and/or excuse. We are not all alike and we surely don't have empathy, sympathy, compassion for fellow human beings, especially women and children in this case. Whoever ordered this and whoever carried it out are lower than animals. It is sad we have to inhabit the same planet.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Peaches

    @ Kitty HaHa, There's nothing *civil* about axing a child to death!

    May 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • No kidding???

      You do know what a "Civil War" is right? I don't think Kitty was saying they are being civil....get a clue! Think with your head not your heart!!! I hope that Kitty is just as horrified about the killing of women and children just like the rest of us, and I would bet she is!!!

      May 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. valwayne

    The Assad regime, backed by Iran, is slaughtering innocents by the tens of thousands now, and going after children. Yet, just like when Neda was shot down in the streets of Teheran to bleed to death, Obama does nothing? Why did he take us into an UNauthorized war in Libya to supposedly protect civiian lives while the true slaughter has always been in Syria where he does nothing?

    May 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kitty HaHa

      When Obama does something you republicans call him a war monger.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • DAPCAN

      I don't know for sure but a few suggestions;

      1) Russia is more involved with this Syria
      2) the GOP screamed when the decision was made to help Libya
      3) the Syrian military is not weak
      4) a vast majority of countries want Iran to be controlled
      5) US aggression in the center of the middle east would not be well received and could inflame an already tense situation (Libya and Iran are not the center of the middle east)

      I am not saying that aid should not be provided but rather describing why I think this is a different situation

      May 28, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • db

      He didn't as he was incapable of thinking that indepth. It was the Frenchand UN who did the attacks and helped support the rebels. Obama is not capable of making those kinds of decisions.

      May 29, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. QuickRedFox

    Children shot, knifed, axed to death in Waco massacre, reports say.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carter

    More lies from the mainstream press who are tying to get us involved in and internal matter.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Why wasn't Iraq an in internal matter? Libya? and now Iran? What binds these three countries together?... they are all net oil exporters.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • pablogogo

      "mainstream media" -blah blah blah, so its better to be uptight and selfish?

      May 28, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobby

      wow you ara pretty hard sell arn't ya

      May 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. J Mc

    International military intervention is long past due. This ugliness has only gained in momentum and will continue until there is a force capable of implementing peace. Assad is clearly a war criminal and the free world, especially the US, Britain, France and Australia need to crush the Syrian Army. Today.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Everett Wallace

    This has nothing to do with religion. This here is what is known as HUMAN sacrfices on a large scale, this here type of murdering has never been seen before and if it is not STopped it will continue, it's like a wildfire that is spreading, this is an evil which only the ELITE can see and know and only the ELITE can kill.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      You ever heard of Rowanda? I would look that up, and the answer to your question is yes, there have been mass killings on this scale before and no the U.S. didn't do anything about it then. I'm all for being a humanitarian but we need to fix our financial issues at home first before we go dumping another 800 billion toward another war effort that will yield nothing but making us feel all warm and funny

      May 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kitty HaHa

    Syria's civil war is no more about religion than America's civil war was.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • pablogogo

      so, who cares how it differs

      May 28, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Everett Wallace

      you have the opposition with guns and grenades fighting against a regime with tanks, field artillery and other weapons, even the opposition putting down their weapons and giving up the regime is not going to stop murdering them. the civil war each side had artillary, each side had guns just had a different system belief. More than likely what happened in the start of this, one morning assad and his regime woke up and just started mudering people innocent civilians. its just evil that's the only way to say it it's just EVIL!

      May 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobby

      no cicvil wars are really about religion...its always money and power....always

      May 28, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Peaches

    @ Kitty HaHa, The question still remains Kitty.
    @ Nugent and Arpaio , Your post has no place being here on the topic of this article. Please refrain from your off topic comments.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tom

    Their problem not ours. Those people are animals, and when the little ones grow, they to will become animals.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Assad is much more of a threat than Iran. Why aren't we going after him instead? Oh, that's right.. Iran exports 2-3 million barrels of oil per day and Syria is passed peak. I forgot..

      May 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ezo

      You seem to know a lot about animals. Very impressive for something lower on the food chain.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chuck

    Meanwhile, we do nothing like we did in Darfur. Meaningless statements and maybe a resolution or two. We only care about 'human rights' when the offenders are net oil exporters.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • pablogogo

      the tendency is true

      May 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobby

      just cause we did othing in one place does not mean we do nothing in all places

      May 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. J Mc

    Bizarre and uninspiring.

    May 28, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ezo

      Accurate self-appraisal. You forgot pathetic.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      same can be said of the day you were "hatched"
      very uninspiring!

      May 29, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  15. GB

    I live in Boston and sometimes it depresses me about how violent it can get in this city. Then I read about these massacres in Syria and I question whether humanity deserves the right to exist any longer. I have to believe we are better than that. I want to meet the men who did this slaughtering. Let them be unarmed when I meet them. I will bring a few friends. We will have a good old fashioned street fight. Treat human beings with love and respect. Treat them the way you want to be treated. What is wrong with people? Love people. LOVE! Not war. These children and people suffered because of ideology. Why?

    May 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • omfarz

      Dogs of war has been let loose on Syria. This is not to favor the Syrian regime. But there are other ways to change a regime – bloodshed should have been the last resort. Syrian destabilization is strategic and favors the military agenda of certain nations, one reason why the Russians/Chinese are involved in ensuring that it is prevented...

      May 28, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • pablogogo

      ignorance and fear push people into places of bigotry, intolerance, and apathy

      May 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • mlg4035

      I live in Tokyo, and I feel exactly same way...
      Well said!

      May 29, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
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