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. bff

    and..... how do you know this?

    May 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Alex

    Horrific, indeed. But, as long as China and Russia are allies of Syria, the U.S. can, and will do, nothing. Besides, we have enough of our own problems. Let Syria's arabic neighbors put THEIR boots (or pointy gold ali-baba slippers) on the ground to help save them.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gopherit

    As usual, in such situations one must be wary of the possible fradulant use of materials for propaganda purposes, as in this report from FARS. Thanfully, CNN at least so far apparently has not done this.

    US Reporter Underlines BBC's Intentional Misuse of Iraq Picture for Syria Report

    TEHRAN (FNA)- A renowned American journalist stressed that the West attempts hard to maintain its media hype over Syria, and said the BBC deliberately used the shocking photo from Iraq in 2003 – which shows the corpses of Shiite Iraqi children killed during the Saddam era – atop a report on Syria.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. john

    When is the mighty Obama going to do something about this crisis, instead of worring about his re-election. The killing of innocent children, "This is a crying shame", let's do something.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lean6

      I'm not a mind reader or a psychic, but by saying "mighty Obama", you leave little room for anybody to believe other than that your position on intervention in Syria is completely political. No doubt if President Obama would intervene militarily, you'd be on the other side of the issue. We can't save the entire world...I don't care who's in the White House.

      May 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stacy

      Why do we NEED to do something? So more of our soldiers die in a country full of civil war for over 1,000 years. That is what the UN is for. We need to protect our own citizens and country first. We go there we will be stuck there for another 12 years and many US soldiers will die. I am NOT willing to send my son over there. I LOVE my country not Syria.

      May 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Douglas

      It is not the United States place to police the world, we tried that already and the world hates us for it. We need to solve our own problems before we can help others with theirs

      May 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      lean6, I spent 24 years in the military, and you?

      May 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. itylhive

    Rebels probably sacked the city to provoke revolt.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. bhockey47

    I truly look forward to the day when we see Asma al-Assad hanging from a lamp post...

    May 29, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mycenia

    This has nothing to do with their religion. Governments and churches have been slaughtering their own people for thousands of years. This is just history come round again.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • smather2175

      You are seriously uniformed (a polite way to say something else). What started as a dictatorship oppressing it's citizens has spilled over and a thousand years of hate as erupted between Muslim sects and it can't be stopped. The Shiites lost in Iraq and are trying to establish themselves in Syria by killing Sunnis (sp?). Add in that Al Qaeda and other extremists are rolling in with the intent of taking control in the chaos. Other factions are pouring in from Libya with Ghadaffi's weapons. This has become a religious war.

      May 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mistylynn

    What is wrong with someone who can kill little children and babies or anyone for that matter. It makes me sick in my stomach that there is so much evil in this world. How can anyone do this? I will never never understand. Never. When will the killing and torture ever go away.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ashamed in Canada

    When we were growing up my father told me he fought in W W 2, so we (his children and grandchildren) could live in peace and to put an end to the monster named Hitler. Here we are again, another monster has lifted his ugly head and AGAIN the world is watching, just as it did with Hitler, in disbelief? Technology has given us a birds eye view into what is talking place in Syria, why is the world acting like nothing is going on there? will it take gas chambers and ovens before we put an end to this!!! Shame on us! God does not bless any country who turns away from this!

    May 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. smather2175

    The expulsion of Syrian diplomats and national condemnation won't have ANY impact. The ruling family won't let go and the worst part is that now the killing is at a sectarian level. Basically it's become a war of the government on it's people with an out of control, uncontrollable hatred and war between Muslim sects. Look at it this way, it's as if all the Baptists and Catholics in the US decided it was time to annihilate each other.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. rick

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his entire regime of cowards should suffer the same consequences. No trial, just plain execution. As far as his major supporters...stop buying Made in China and use gasoline more wisely. We are the government; we have responsibilities and power to make this world better for everyone.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. smather2175

    People, there is way more to this than a few dead children. This will end up being a genocide and it won't be by the Syrian government but by it's citizens. What started as a dictatorship oppressing it's citizens has spilled over and a thousand years of hate has erupted between Muslim sects and it can't be stopped. The Shiites lost in Iraq and are trying to establish themselves in Syria by killing Sunnis (sp?). Add in that Al Qaeda and other extremists are rolling in with the intent of taking control in the chaos. Other factions are pouring in from Libya with Ghadaffi's weapons – biological as well as traditional ordinance. The Kurd's want to establish their own nation which would be northern Syria and Norther Iraq. Turkey will only take so many refuges. This has become a religious war and it will redefine the borders of the middle east. THEN.. what happens when one of the extremist groups launches a small missile into Israel with some of Ghaddafi's stolen biological weapons. It is a bad, bad war about to happen.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • larry

      i think is the other way around: sunnies lost Iraq and now are trying to keep Syria.

      May 30, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan B

      A few dead children? One would be too many. This is a government that has to be exterminated like the insects they are. What kind of an animal or animals could do this to children??

      May 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Grace B.

    Dead children. How can we all just sit here and do nothing!?!?

    May 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry Moss

      Unfortunately they (the Syrians) don't have much oil so none of the "civilised" nations want to get involved. We're satified with sending a few ambassadors home. It's a crying shame and shmae on the Syrian government for allowing it to happen.

      May 30, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Obi Wan Kenobi

      One can only do what one can. And to think that Muslims are always touting how benevolent and peaceful their religion is, yet they fall back on the old tribal and ideological schisms that will eventually kill them all.

      May 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lexi Allanson

      America or any country for that matter wont help unless they find a gain in helping Syria.

      May 30, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dusty

    I never really thought I would hope that Hell is real, now i do and and whoever had any part in this gets to live there for eternity.

    May 29, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tdsii

    Something must be done, not just UN meetings to discuss their next meeting.

    May 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
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