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. larry

    what i can do as a single citizen of the world? Where is my power, other than writing letters to my congress man to stop the killing, why this president, who i voted for remains mute and powerless. How many more children have to die under this awful goverment? Many question at night I have with no answers. How sad is seeing a country that kills its children.

    May 30, 2012 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. Aacon

    The Russian Government cares no more for Syrian children than the Government of Syria does & that goes for China's Government as well.Russia and China Government officials are now just as guilty as the Syrian Government for any deaths from this now because obviously they could with words alone stop this in one days time,but they show they refuse by stalling.

    May 30, 2012 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. myke

    Like the violence in Mexico... Why don't these people stand up and fight! Take a look at the photos...hundreds of men walking around saying "Why do they do something to save us". Organize and save yourselves! They want International intervention, but are not willing to fight for themselves. America is (or, was) a strong country because our ancestors fought oppression and died so that their offspring could live in a free society. No other nation assisted my ancestors. Are these people just this stupid and cowardly?

    May 30, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • TBone

      You may want to check your history books. The revolutionary soldiers received a lot of help – hell, even Poland helped out.

      May 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lexi Allanson

      Many people helped in the revolutionary war, such as the french. Had they not sent a few ships ( probably more, possibly an armada? Dunno. ) The British would have won, not only the french but Poland. ( maybe a few more? Not sure. )

      May 30, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt Grace

      Myke, actually, the French helped the Americans fight off the British...

      May 30, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Heather

    This makes me so sick and my heart is hurting. This is just beyond words. There is so much wrong in a world where any human being could carry out such acts on another. There is definitely the "why?", and also the "how?" How could you live with yourself?

    May 30, 2012 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  5. Maz D. Connor

    Yes – this is horrible... but only because it didn't happen in Gaza, right?

    When Israel massacres lots and lots of brown's because it's "protecting itself," right?

    Yep. In the very same sense it's "anti-Semitic" to call building Jewish only roads, school and towns on occupied land "apartheid."

    And while affirmative action is good because all people should have equal opportunity, hyperoverrepresentation of Jewish Americans at the Federal Reserve, the White House, major banks, the Defense Policy board... many of whom are dual citizens... to even ask about this is to be smeared.

    So then – Al Qaeda is bad, until we back them in Libya and Syria to install Israel-friendly, petro-dollar friendly regimes.

    Got it.

    May 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sickofitall

    This President won't act because he is a lame duck. He is not a leader. All he has done for the war on terror is ride the coattails of the president before him. The killings in Syria must be stopped at all costs. It is an absolut horror and we as the leaders of the free world cannot let this continue. How can we talk about our high morals and values of life when we let murder such as this happen? We have no credibility and I am so very ashamed of our government.

    May 30, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      So for everyone asking the U.S. to get involved, how many of you will say the same when American military members are sent home in body bags? Who do you bomb? Do you know the enemy? What uniforms are they are or do they look like the citizens in Syria? Just because we put boots on the ground doesn't mean we will stop anything. We have a tired military as it is.

      May 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cindy

    Why do we need to keep policing the world, isn't it past time that we get our country back under control for us. We have children being put in jail at 17 years old because she missed school, a honor student, works 2 jobs, take care of her siblings and goes to jail for missing school? I feel sorry for these people in other countries but at this moment in our history we are loosing everything we have. We have other children on the streets with their parents not being able to find a job, our money is about to crash and we need to stop whats going on in our country 1st. Then we can get back to helping others, it makes no sense to me the amount of money being printed to take care of other countries when our employment is down again, the housing market will crash again, and more lies come out of our government's mouth. We have drones in our skies FDA arresting Amish people for selling milk, I mean really. We need to take care of our government get our country back to America the Great and then take care of others, and how do we know this is even true. The media are only part of the government.

    May 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amaris

      You seriously show no mercy. I agree that we have our own issues but how can you compare a Honors student going to jail to hundreds of innocent families being killed. No wonder other countries hate us. We are so arrogant. The only way the US would actually help is if there is something that interests them in that country. Its all about money.

      May 30, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mebsu22

    This sickens me, I myself have 2 children, why isn't the US getting involved. I took an oath that also included defending the people who cannot defend themselves. I would volunteer to go in a heartbeat and I will hunt down all those who committed these murders.

    May 30, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lexi Allanson

      there are no gains, simply the goverment wont take action until pressured to do so by over half of the American people or a gain, (ex oil, money, ect. ) is presented in helping.

      May 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. les

    I'm not being a wiseass but we won't help because there's no oil involved

    May 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lexi Allanson

    This is horrible.
    As Les said, People wont help simply because they have no gains in helping them. However much pleading they do, it wont help. I really wish we could help though and i figure if we pressure our governments eventually something might happen, but who knows how much time that will take and how many more innocent lives will be taken.

    May 30, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lexi Allanson

      People? I'm sorry I meant governments.

      May 30, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. PS

    Why are Americans so selective and terrible – attacking Iraq for the same crimes, and ignoring this issue? Really, do you only do what Fox News tells you to do, and ignore the rest? Just awful. Please, someone justify how a morale, christian person can justify mobilizing trillions of dollars and political will to attack one country, and ignore countless others? It is no wonder that people think Iraq had nothing to do with freedom, but more to do with giving money to contractors and one man's weird obsession with avenging his father. Again, just awful.

    May 30, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eddie

    Lets do what the terrorist world wants us to do, jump in our jets strap on the family dog and go bomb something. Why is this our problem? We need to cool our jets and come home and regroup and reveal as a nation. We have spent enough money on useless causes and crippled vets. Obama nor Roman should not get involved. Why do we police the world, they should fight their own battles.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Joshua

      It's a crime against humanity. There's a difference between a political intervention and this. Assad must be stopped, and if our assistance is required, I'm all for it.

      May 31, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • HPNIII

      Get out of the middle east, these people are nothing but sand nigers. Given enough arms they will kill themselves off and no need for us to go down with their sinking ship. They are genetically flawed, they have had thousands of years to solve their problems and they are just as screwed up now as they have every been.

      May 31, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Katherine

      When this is happening to you and your family, i hope you have the same sentiments, Eddie.

      May 31, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joann

      We need to get involved so the next war is not in our backyard and our children are not collateral damage. The world is a smaller marble than you think. What rock would you like to hide under? Are we not all in this world together?

      June 1, 2012 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  13. Barry G.

    Something is terribly wrong, when Russia and China can prevent the international community from bringing Assad and his regime to justice.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • jack

      Maybe America can help .. ?? your experience in Iraq was good enough

      May 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Barry G.

    Assad could be brought to justice, if it weren't for the interference and protection of Russia and China.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Beth

    This is crazy! Its like Rwanda all over again and terrible. My husband comes from Uganda and there is nothing these poor people do to bring this kind of terror on themselves! He was a young child of only 2 when Amin was killing people in Uganda. These people need to be stopped! People who allow this are insane. We stood around and did nothing to help Rwanda....but help people in Iraq when there weren't any weapons of mass destruction. I rather walk and not have oil and gas to drive my vehicle than to know there are innocent people being killed without help.

    May 31, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
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