Syria’s My Lai

05/28/2012

The Houla Massacre Marks a New Level of Violence

Some 109 people were killed on Friday night in the Syrian village of Houla after regime troops, responding to attacks by the Free Syrian Army, bombarded the village with tank and mortar fire. This image is taken from a video said to be of the burial of the victims on Saturday of 92 people, including 32 children.

By Ulrike Putz  in Beirut

With at least 109 dead, including dozens of children, the weekend massacre in the Syrian village of Houla could go down in history alongside such brutal post-World War II massacres as My Lai and Srebrenica. In Syria, it will likely trigger a new wave of violence and reprisals.

My Lai. Sabra and Shatila. Srebrenica. And now Houla. The sheer intensity of international outrage over the Friday-night massacre means that the village in northeastern Syria could very well join the towns in Vietnam, Lebanon and Bosnia-Herzegovina as short-hand for the murder of defenseless civilians in the post-World War II era. According to the United Nations, at least 100 people were killed in the attack, many of them young children. On Sunday afternoon, the UN Security Council condemned the killings and blamed the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for the slaughter.

China on Monday joined the long list of countries to denounce the violence. “China feels deeply shocked by the large number of civilian casualties in Houla, and condemns in the strongest terms the cruel killings of ordinary citizens, especially women and children,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.

The death toll from the attack continued to rise on Sunday, with several of the 300 people wounded succumbing to their injuries. The number of dead is now thought to be 109 villagers. In addition, some 3,000 people took to the streets of Damascus to protest against the bloody government attack, according to activists. Security forces reportedly fired into the crowd, killing two. Houla, it would seem, is not yet over.

But global disgust has not brought an end to the violence. At least 24 people were killed in the central city of Hama during bombardments on Sunday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Eight of those killed were reportedly children. The bombardment came after several attacks on Assad forces by fighters with the Free Syrian Army, though reports of the violence have yet to be independently verified, Reuters reported.

With a number of the wounded having succumbed to their injuries over the weekend, the death toll now stands at 109, including dozens of children under the age of 10.

Close-Range Shots

According to activists, the Friday night slaughter in Houla came at the hands of Syrian security forces and other fighters loyal to the Assad regime. UN observers, who visited the village on Saturday morning, confirmed that evidence — such as tank shells found at the site — indicates that regime troops are behind the violence. Images produced during the UN visit intensified the global revulsion: more than 30 of those killed are children under the age of 10. Some of the pictures show children who appear to have been executed with close-range shots to the head.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle joined the chorus of condemnation on Saturday, saying in a statement that “it is shocking and horrifying that the Syrian regime refuses to cease using brutal violence against its own people. Those responsible for this crime must be brought to justice.”

Given the presence of UN observers, the Syrian regime was unable to deny, as it often does, the events that took place in Houla, located not far from the rebel stronghold of Homs. Instead, Damascus claimed that it carried no responsibility, with state television reporting that “terrorists” were behind the bloodbath.

Since the uprising in Syria began some 15 months ago, foreign journalists have been largely prevented from entering the police state, making it difficult to verify reports coming out of the country. Information from Syrian activists, on which most media outlets depend, have furthermore proven unreliable in the past. Continue reading