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. Honest Truth

    Why do Western news organizations only cover caucasian massacres? The people of Tibet have been treated this way for more than 60 years, yet little of their plight is reported by the news or discussed by the U.N.

    May 29, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Hand

      You're grasping at straws pal, I gurantee these Syrians have darker skin than the people of Tibet. No race card to be played here, move on.

      May 29, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • mordrud

      @Honest Truth
      It's really because we are pretty sure we can beat Syria in a fight. We are less optimistic about China. So sorry Tibet, you're on your own.

      May 29, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Bobby

      Is there oil or some sort of strategic advantage for NATO in there? No? Then you can rot and die, we don't care.

      May 29, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • magnus

      arabs are caucasians?

      May 29, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • O my science

      Wow I did not realize Syrians were caucasion. As well I did not know that the people who were massacred in mexico as well as the people who were massacred in Darfur were caucasion as well. Thanks for your fact based statement. I wish more people would make fact based statements like you do.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • O my science

      @Honest Truth
      Wow I did not realize Syrians were caucasion. As well I did not know that the people who were massacred in mexico as well as the people who were massacred in Darfur were caucasion as well. Thanks for your fact based statement. I wish more people would make fact based statements like you do.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cat

    This ofcorse is disgusting...however, and it is a very big however..I dont think the United States should get involved...we are not the worlds damned nanny..we cant take care of everyone...the freaking arab world has the resources to take care of this problem...let the freaking saudies arm and support the rebels...why does the entire world expect the United States to foot the bill and sacrafice our men and women for this crap...just saying

    May 29, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Volntyr

      So you are just saying that its ok for defenseless women and children, some of them not even out of diapers, to be shot and knifed to death? The US and its allies are trying to do something to prevent these types of tragedies from happening by going thru the United Nations. At the present time, no one is able to help due to Russia.

      May 29, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • james

      100% agree – not my problem, don't want to be involved. let the russians or the europeans do something for a change.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lawrence P

    What is the world waiting for? Why can't the UN stop this with force? Politics at a time like
    this is criminal. This is a time when the goodness in mankind must emerge and stop the horror
    and evil that resides in Syria. The collective human heart must demonstrate its power.
    Think of the screaming children and the dark blood spilled by innocents

    May 29, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
    • BlueMonkey

      I agree 200%

      May 29, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • aster

      Maybe you should write a letter to the Russian president. No need to be upset at the world when it is well-known who blocks every measure against Syria in this, just to spite America.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mark w

    assad needs the same treatment the libyans gave gahdfi

    May 29, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Bobby

      Those weren't Libyans.

      May 29, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. Wanda

    Whether trolls or teletubbies, the US is not responsible for what ever happens in other countries. They treat each other like animals even worse. We have our own issues, but very fortunate that these kinds of barbaric acts do not take place here. Our focus this year is to either re-elect this President of ours or elect someone else. Best of luck to all of us.

    May 29, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • David Williams

      Wanda, Shame on you for being selfish, yes we have issue, BUT THOSE ARE INNOCENT CHILDREN???? Where is your human dignity??????????? CHILDREN DAMN IT

      May 29, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  6. Cougar

    These kinds of acts are happening just south of our border. Mexico is going thru the same insane garbage!

    May 29, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. db

    "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." When is the world going to wake up and realize that it is the Syrian Regime that IS the terrorists with in their own country, much like Hitler and the Black Boots of the Nazi party starting up all over again, just as Hitler did before WWII. Is the world going to let this nutbag and his Syrian Regime drag us all into his war on the world or is the United Nations going to stop this? If Russia and China do not see the negative side of this discorde of an unstable and corruptly murderous gang of thugs that run the Syrian Government as a threat, then the UN head should be sternly talking to them to stop this before it completely unstabilizes the world again. Of course Obama will play Nero as Rome burns back home.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott M.

      db if Obama had authorized US strikes in Syria I guarantee you woud've complained that he didn't go through the proper channels, or was declaring an illegal war on Syria... But since he didn't, now you're talking about him like Nero watching Rome burn. You can't have it both ways.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. steve

    yeah, hopefully you can join one in the "near" future you sick moron!

    May 29, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. Dave

    Enough is enough. Time to set loose our Air Force, at the very least. No Syrian military base, government bldg, armed force or tank should be left in one piece. Just be prepared for the Repubs to howl since it will be Obama giving the order, just like with the Lybia situation. Of course if it were Bush/Cheney still in office it would be a whole different story about "spreading freedom".

    May 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Daniela

    I can't even read this. Our world is just a horrible place to live...how anyone could do this is beyond me...I pray every day for peace...why we have to live in a world with this disgusting violence will never make sense to me.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Q

      What we need is more religion and more guns, of course.....ROMNEY 2012

      May 29, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. robert

    what is obama waiting for russian approval,just like iran,time to help israel obama or forever hold your peace

    May 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • n mortell

      What? How about help Syrians? Why is that even after reading this article you are worried about Israel?

      May 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • whatever

      your comment about Obama is ridiculous.....yes these events are HORRIBLE...but its a civil war....., and no one in our government nor the majority of our citizens would condone sending in US troops to die in someone else's civil war.......particularly after we are just now winding down wars on 2 fronts. No Country would agree to direct involvement unless there was some sort of national security or national interest at stake.....yes sad, but true. The obvious failure here should be attributed to the WEAK United Nations.....one of is sole reasons for existing is to prevent things like this from happening....but because of politics, and countries following their own self interest (Russia).... the UN is completely impotent. So you can leave Obama out of it..........he is not responsible for what is going on in Syria.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. pinkfloyd43

    I am beginning to wonder if this terrible incident was due to different type of Muslims fighting other types and could have nothing to do with the government but terrible individuals taking advantage of the situation! Think about it. Believe me the government is guilty of a ton of terrible stuff but this seems more likely the more I read about it. Going after particular 'families' just seems strange to me.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Eugene Debs

    The Syrian government would kill a bunch of children, up close and personal, when they KNEW the UN would be there to take pictures of it all and report it? I don't like or trust the Syrian government, but this has all the hallmarks of a CIA or Mossad job.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bibi

    I think God is crying. The sins of mankind has gone up to God's nostrils as a rotting stench that has no end and just like he put an end to it during the time of Noah, God will soon put an end to all this. That is my sincerest prayer. The Devil is raging and running rampant in Syria and other places on earth and men are continuously deceived by him. May God have mercy on us all. NO CHILD DESERVES TO BE HARMED no matter the situation. Children are always innocent in these battles and those who harm them will pay dearly either now or in God's time. Guaranteed. This story breaks my heart.

    May 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • No

      The only one to blame is ourselves.

      It is up to us to make this world heaven or hell. god left a long time ago.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    Animals !!

    May 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
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