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. r


    May 28, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jim

    I can't believe what animals the middle eastern people are. They have been killing each other for thousands of years. Even if they aren't blowing themselves up in a public market, they oppress their woman from education and equal rights. They're complete animals.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hoosa

      Jim you are an animal yourself for painting all middle easterns in the same brush...proves you have a brain size of an animal

      May 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      Good thing our country doesn't have a history of Oppressing women...or murdering doctors or blowing up daycares with a federal building or blowing up bombs at international gatherings like the Olympics.

      The xtian taliban is deeply rooted in the U.S.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Waseem

      @Hoosa Agreed.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jon

    im sorry, but obama's been a big fat zero on syria....

    libya? he was happy to lead from behind...but as I said then, when it really counts, who is going to lead from the front?

    what about the right to protect doctrine? in libya, how many people dies before nato went in? a few hundred? how many have died in syria? 10,000? 15,000?

    where is the american president already!!!!! oh right.....he doesnt like to get himself dirty, unless of course he is abusing israel for building apartments in their ancestral homeland.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Army Of Me

      I've got an idea, why don't you grab a gun and head over there now. I'm sure we all wouldn't mind putting your name on another monument.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      You were born from behind.The U.S. is currently occupying Afghanistan,trying to extract itself from Iraq,and you think we should Syria and perhaps even Iran.Why don't YOU get your passport,fly into Syria,and take up arms in defense of the Syrian rebels against Assad?...If you are not willing to do so,then quit your complaining,crybaby!

      May 28, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Waseem


      May 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. shaana

    US in no way should be involved in this one . They need to find support in the form of arab league or some place else with majority muslim support.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Waseem

      I don't agree. The U.S is the most powerful country in the world, and they should start using that for good.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jody

    Such cowardly slimeballs, slaughtering babies. Haven't heard any condemnation from the vocal muslims in the West. But then one only hears from them when they're whining abut something.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • escher7

      Any excuse to generalize about people you don't know. You are the problem not the solution.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      Muslims are the only ones that act like this...killing women and children...

      May 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. r

    animals. uneducated barbaric animals. so afraid of their women they do not let them drive, cover them, and do not let them get an education. nice culture. kill women and children because they have such a poor opinion of themselves.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jataka

      Maybe Arabs, but there are muslim countries that don't subject their women to that. Open a book Billy Joe Bob.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Daron

    This is obviously bait – the only reason anyone (government or otherwise) would do something like this is to draw other people into the conflict. It's made to grab our attention and provoke us to do "knee jerk" actions. It goes without saying that this horrendous act should inspire the world to track down the individuals responsible and bring them to justice, but anything further than that is risky at best. Where's the Arab League in all of this? Are they drafting a condemnation letter and scheduling a meeting sometime next month to discuss how awful they all feel about this?

    May 28, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. George

    Time to send in the F-15s.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jataka

    Pretty sad. Most humans are garbage and contribute nothing to the planet except more garbage.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pelegrim

    My own human race disgusts me.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JoeJoeJoe

    Alicia wrote:
    Never in history have muslims demonstrated lasting peace..... I don't recall history making mention of us getting help and we survived.

    Have you not heard of the US Revolutionary war, which we would have certainly lost if it weren't for France's help? I suppose you also think that we should not have intervened in Nazi Germany either.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rula

    Had these been Isreali babies, Obama would have sent in troops two days ago.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Githm

      shut up please.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vadim

      When a one palestinian child accidently killed by Israli military strike the whole muslim world crying and screaming – "kill the jews! Israeli a child killers" but when 30 or 300 muslim kids killed by the own people .... nobody in muslim word would care about.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Fiona

    As horrifying as this is, notice that the "livid, white-haired Syrian" implies such violence is normal treatment for animals. It's not. This is a harsh society, with no respect for life that does not walk on two legs. If you wonder where such violence comes from, such thhirst for blood...there you are. As Gandhi famously said, "the greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated."

    May 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • thank you

      good point, we are below animals, i do not believe we have ever seen such meaningless mass killing in the animal population, and we differentiate ourselves from them because we have "conscious"

      May 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. David H

    A muslim can massacre muslims without a peep from the muslim countries, just don't insult them.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Charlie

    Watch and see how the UN tries to take over this country. Practice for their takeovers of other sovereign nations.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
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