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. CJ Topspin

    Somebody (other than the U.S.) has to do something. Preferably some middle eastern bloc of countries.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. joebialek

    This letter is in response to the articles covering the civil unrest
    occurring in Syria.

    As a citizen of and believer in democracy, I applaud the efforts of the
    Syrian people. Their efforts are similar to what is happening in
    Iran and Bahrain as well as the most recent revolutions in Algeria,
    Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya.

    Believe it or not, one thing that trumps capitalism and political
    correctness in the United States is the right to have one's voice heard.
    This is the foundation of which our democracy is built on. The Syrian
    people should continue to defy Bashar al-Assad's powerful
    security forces so that Syrian democracy can begin to thrive. It is
    unfortunate that the United States compromised on one of its most
    fundamental values in order to protect its economic interests in the
    Middle East; something that happens all too often domestically as well.
    It is not the Syrian people that are attempting to seize power but rather
    it is those currently in power who have engaged in intimidation to prevent
    the will of the people from being heard. Why else would they stoop to such
    underhanded tactics to block various means of communication among the
    citizens of Syria? Why is the government in power utilizing such
    political strong-arm tactics as the use of violence?

    Bashar al-Assad, you have had twelve years to lead Syria and have
    failed them by your own choosing. The days of the despotic regime are
    finally coming to an end as it appears the desire for freedom will continue
    to sweep among the Arab nations. Accordingly, let the call go forth among
    all citizens of Syria that your brothers and sisters of democracy from all
    over the world are with you during every trial and tribulation you may
    encounter during this crisis. To the people of Syria, the trumpet of
    freedom beckons you to rise in protest and ensure your voice to preserve
    your sacred heritage, promote your children's future and obtain the
    blessings of liberty we all cherish.

    Syria, the hour of your redemption is at hand. As you the rightful citizens
    move forward to reclaim your own country, rise and strike! In the name of
    those who were murdered fighting for everyone's rights, rise and strike!
    To end the rule of this evil regime, rise and strike! Let no one continue
    to fear this man. Let every Syrian be strong and fight on for their
    freedom. Rise and strike!

    Bashar al-Assad, let the people go!

    Cleveland, OH USA

    May 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      Get a life, Joe.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rula

    If Syria had oil like Libya...getting involved would be a none issue.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. penguin

    It looks like it is indeed time to send in the jet bombers and drones and target the Palace

    May 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Vadim

    When a one palestinian child accidently killed by Israli the whole muslim world crying aloud "Death to Israel" and 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 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • ed


      May 28, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brooklyn718


      Perhaps it is because the action of their own is too horrific to shout out. The shame they must feel for someone they trusted for so long. The lie...

      May 28, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Capt. Zeb

    It is time to send in 100,000 troops to stop this slaughter. Air strikes on all Syrian military hardware.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Capt. Zeb

      If the Syrian's blew up a pine tree in US, the US people would be screaming for armed invasion. I have a pine tree in my back yard. I think I will blow it up in the name of Syria.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • HgeStelrFn

      agreed ....UN get off your ass and load those planes.....they won't...european countries and most of the US is impotent.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ed

      Why? Why is it OUR responsibility? What about the Arab League, the UN? Why do OUR soldiers have to go die for people that couldn't care less about America. These are the same people that were in the streets cheering on 9/11.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Capt. Zeb

      Because Ed, We are Human! Soldiers need not die if the enemies ability to fight is eliminated. Why are they dying in Aff? Because the government is restricting their maneuvers just like in Viet Nam!

      May 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Capt. Zeb

      Do you see the Russians helping, or China? Only ones helping is Iran, but the wrong side!

      May 28, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • thank you

      "because we are human" well put, Zeb. Because we are human and they are human, its not about us and them, its about us is them. just when i started to regress into despair, your post reminded me their is hope. thank you.

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

    It's what Muslim policei states look like throughout the world. Assad is simply the Syrian branch of the Baath Party that was dismantled in Iraq. Assad is supported by the Shiite mystic Ayatollahs of Iran, but their Sunni Wahhabi Jihadi rivals are no better. It's a mad culture supported by our dependence on foreign oil.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bowd

    This is a no-win situation for all. If we intervene, it will be like Iraq – we free one side and cause long term turmoil that is no worse than what it is today – plus we end up being the world's enemy. If we don't, we will feel inhuman.

    Damn these countries have us by our moral b**ls. Damn you Bashar – you know our weaknesses well.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. a disgrace

    this story sounds no different than what happens every day in a leaderless failing america....

    May 28, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. HgeStelrFn

    This is unacceptable!! To all you who are war patsies and opposed the US in Afghanistan and oppose taking out you can just sit by and allow and tacit support the slaughter of innocents??!! I dont care what your culture...the world needs defended against evil. Obama has no balls so we will stand by...but we should through the UN throw some chips in the game and retaliate to level the playing field for the rebel forces. It is clear in every country ..Sunnis are on the run from Shiites.
    I would give my life to defend innocent ppl of any culture, makes me sick, especially on this Memorial Day that many of our US "countrymen" no longer feel the same.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donnie the Lion

      But where will the money come from? And it DOES come down to money, unfortunately. Every unemployed person looking for work could raise their hand and honestly ask, "What about me, Mr. President?"

      May 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      If he has no balls then why did he go into Pakistan and kill Bin Ladin and take out another one of the big wig Al Quida... He also incresed the amount of troops in Afganistan.....

      May 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Peikovianyi

    2012.05.28 (Pattani, Thailand) – At least three people are killed when Muslim terrorists detonate a bomb under a pick-up truck
    2012.05.28 (Chrakhel, Pakistan) – Sunni gunmen ambush and machine-gun a vehicle carrying Shia civilians.
    2012.05.27 (Potiskum, Nigeria) – Religious extremists attack the home of a rival cleric, shooting two people to death.
    2012.05.27 (Kano, Nigeria) – Four men playing cards under a tree are suddenly machine-gunned in a Boko Haram drive-by.
    2012.05.27 (Marjah, Afghanistan) – Mujahideen take out two civilians with a roadside bomb.
    2012.05.26 (Yobe, Nigeria) – Two men are gunned down in their own homes by Islamic extremists.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dave

    If the U.S. were to intervene in anything this would be a just cause. The Muslim people should be up in arms right now over this but they are not or at least we do not hear anything about it if they are.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Peikovianyi

    It's how militant Islam treats civilians all over the world.

    2012.05.28 (Pattani, Thailand) – At least three people are killed when Muslim terrorists detonate a bomb under a pick-up truck
    2012.05.28 (Chrakhel, Pakistan) – Sunni gunmen ambush and machine-gun a vehicle carrying Shia civilians.
    2012.05.27 (Potiskum, Nigeria) – Religious extremists attack the home of a rival cleric, shooting two people to death.
    2012.05.27 (Kano, Nigeria) – Four men playing cards under a tree are suddenly machine-gunned in a Boko Haram drive-by.
    2012.05.27 (Marjah, Afghanistan) – Mujahideen take out two civilians with a roadside bomb.
    2012.05.26 (Yobe, Nigeria) – Two men are gunned down in their own homes by Islamic extremists.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Stan

    phony 2012

    May 28, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. professionalscold

    The US is supposed the last remaining "super power". Where are we? Where are the US troops to "move out" the government? If we let innocents die then we are no better than the Syrian government. Shame on us.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • ironage

      We are broke.....or haven't you noticed?

      May 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • professionalscold

      You're right! Just broke enough to continue a multi-billion dollar war in a country people could care less about.

      June 4, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
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