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. visitor

    The middle east will never be at peace. It's all about people wanting to dominate and control others while using history and religeon as an excuse to take personal happiness and freedom from others (aka) just plain evil and its been that way for centuries.

    May 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ct

    Axed....Knife'd..... Have you seen it? "no we are just reporting that"

    May 28, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. visitor

    Sounds like you hold Obama responsible for pretty much anything that goes wrong.

    May 28, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Yellow

    "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??"

    Yes, it did make "sense". Halabja gas attack was an atrocity committed by Saddam as part of Operation Zafar 7 of the Iraq-Iran war.

    Al-Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds lasted 2 years. These things are systematic and with clear goals in mind. This event in Syria is of no benefit to the government but it is of enormous propaganda benefit to the rebels. You be the judge who was responsible and "why".

    May 28, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. the man

    NOT OUR PROBLEM!

    May 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Agreed. Let a country that is not on the verge of economic collapse deal with these animals.

      May 28, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. saywhat

    How do we know its the Syrians who were the prps?
    There are players on the ground there from countries which want us involved militarily to overthrow Bashar regime, including us?
    They would go to any length to complete their agenda.
    Russian backed, hated by Saudi royals, leaning towards Iran and an obstacle to Israeli designs in the region. Bashar regime is a thorn in many a sides.
    This horror couldn't have been executed by the regime.

    May 28, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justice

      Check with those who are behind this civil unrest-UK, USA, Saudi, Al Qaeda, Isreal, and other western countires. Innocent civilians were sacraficed to meet their goals of overthrowing the Syrian government.

      May 28, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Aitai

    This is a stain on the morality of humanity.

    Shame on those who are witness to this barbarity yet move not to end it, although it is within their power!

    Cast out from the nations of civilized people those who aid and abet Bashar al-Assad.

    Boycott Russian and Chinese products, show your indignation for the baby with the pacifier in it’s lifeless mouth .

    May 28, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • hz

      russia and china has something to do with this just because you say so? lol
      election year politics will always bring this kind of fun claim out.

      May 28, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. engineer_2012

    In any war, weapons do not discriminate between men, women & children. Its exactly the same as when a NATO bomb falls on a residential neighborhood. The bomb is going to indiscriminately kill as in syria – and the images are going to be horrific. The lesson to be learned is that there is no winner in a war, humans haven't understood this as yet. As long as there is a society which is based on huge discrimination and huge populations and no democratic policing, this is going to continue to happen and the images will be more horrific the next time around.

    May 28, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. hz

    first, please show the proof of knifed/axed children.
    then please show proof of those were done by regime soldiers.... imo those kind of actions usually tied to rebel groups

    May 28, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Abe

    I know who did it. Groups of Iranian, Hizbullah, and Iraqi muqtad Al-Sader groups. All three are terrorist organizations and the world doing nothing to stop them. If the world ignored this now, one day you will see then in your backyard.

    May 28, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eyeugize

      Their already in our backyard in Mexico. You don't seriously believe those weekly mass murders down there and nearly 50,000 unarmed Mexicans citizens over the past 7 years were killed by drug dealers do you.

      May 28, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • nadia

      they are present in syria killing with the blessing of Assad. But the girl who survived whose entire family was killed said that houla massacre was done by Assad army they came in tanks and armored cars and knocked at the door and entered the house and started killing. She was injured and pretended to be dead and thats how she survived. Another grandmother whose family was killed saw it all hiding behind a door. If their is any terrorist in syria it is assad and gang.

      May 28, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Elmer Fudd

    Shhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!1 Be verwwwwy verwwwwwy quiet. It's Assad hunting season. HEHEHEHEHEHE. The swimey sillwy wacscallwy weasel..

    May 28, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Praying

    Lord, I pray that you open their eyes and their hearts to the one true God, that they may find everlasting peace, joy and life. I pray for the families of those killed, and the murderers also, that they may turn from their ways and find the light and love of the Lord our God Jesus Christ, as you once did for Saul. Lord, with you all things are possible. Amen.

    May 28, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • seethelight

      Amen

      May 28, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joe Schmoe

    Sadly, just another day in the life of citizens of a third world middle eastern country. It's a disease that has no cure.

    May 28, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JMD9635

    Everything aside, those children must have been petrified. Such unspeakable acts should not be taken out on CHILDREN anywhere in the world. What beliefs could possibly be so important that a "man" kills innocent children? It's pure insanity. I guess one has to think like a demented terrorist to even begin to understand... SICK!

    May 28, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • nadia

      the only one who would do is who wants to stay in power cause the greed of money and power is too much.

      May 28, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. HIDE BEHIND

    What horrors?
    I ser no more of a horrible conflict as to heedless slaughter than what went on during US invasion of Iraq, especially in the Final Solution at Falluga.
    Remember War is hell and collateral damage is to be expected.
    The US acvepted the deaths of. 500,000 children infer the sanctions, Madeline Albtights remarks of, "Well someone has to pay", never raised a ripple of protest; In Is that is.
    Wanna play Empire Politics,better to have others killing each other off than putting our own bofs on the line

    May 28, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
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