Syrians take to the streets as massacre outrage grows
(CNN) — The killings of dozens of Syrian civilians, including more than 30 children, provoked outrage around Syria and worldwide Sunday as horrific images of the bodies in Houla spread across the internet.
Videos posted Sunday on YouTube show demonstrations in cities around the country, including Damascus, Daraa, Idlib, and the suburbs of Hama.
“Oh Houla, we are with you until death,” protesters chanted in Daraa. And a demonstration in Idlib showed a U.N. vehicle among protesters. In the Hama suburbs, demonstrators called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
One protester appeared to be wounded in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan, with video showing him being carried out bleeding from his abdomen.
U.N. monitors say 85 people were killed in Houla on Friday, and 34 of them were children under the age of 10. The monitors visited the town over the weekend, releasing video Sunday that depicts bodies being loaded into a truck and others being prepared for funerals. One man tells the monitors the town was shelled until 2 a.m. Saturday.
The monitors said some of the victims were killed by artillery, while others died from gunshot wounds.And video posted over the weekend showed opposition activists displaying the bloodied remains of more than 10 children, including some with limbs blown off or skulls torn open. In another, medics treated a crying infant whose chest was covered in bandages.
But Syria’s government sharply denied allegations that it was behind he massacre, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi blasting what he called “the tsunami of lies” on Sunday.
At the United Nations, Security Council members are convening for Sunday afternoon talks on the Syrian crisis, said Eduardo del Buey, a spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office. A U.N. report issued Friday said Syrian forces are still using heavy weapons in many areas despite an April cease-fire, and opposition groups effectively control “significant parts of some cities.”
And British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday he has summoned the Syrian Embassy’s charge d’affairs in London to his office on Monday over the massacre in Houla.
“No words strong enough to condemn the massacre in Houla,” Hague tweeted Sunday. “There must be a strong international response.”
But Makdissi told reporters in Damascus on Sunday, “We deny that the Syrian armed forces were responsible of what took place in Houla.” And on state-run media, the Syrian regime said “al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups committed two horrible massacres against a number of families in the towns of al-Shumariyeh and Taldo in the countryside of Homs province.”
The state report also showed gruesome images of children spattered with blood.
Throughout the Syrian uprising, the government has blamed violence on terrorist groups. But opposition groups and world leaders have said Syria is engaged in a brutal crackdown on dissent.
Hague is on his way to Moscow for talks with one of Syria’s leading allies. He said he will call on Russia to support rapid and unequivocal pressure on the Assad regime, as well as “accountability for crimes.”
The Arab League will meet Saturday in Doha to discuss Syria, according to a senior Arab League official. Foreign ministers are expected to attend, the official sending, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media.
U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan is scheduled to visit Syria on Monday, Makdissi said.
Annan brokered a six-point peace plan two months ago and both sides agreed to it. But members of the rebel Free Syrian Army said the Annan plan is “dead,” with some rebels vowing to retaliate against government forces after Friday’s massacre.
“After such a long wait, a test of patience and steadfastness, the joint command of the FSA inside Syria announces that it is no longer possible to abide by the peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan, (which) the regime is taking advantage of in order to commit more massacres against our unarmed civilians,” Free Syrian Army spokesman Col. Qasim Saad Eddine said in a video posted Saturday.
Since the Syrian regime and opposition members accepted the plan in March, at least 1,635 people have been killed, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said Saturday.
Rebel leaders are seeking an end to the al-Assad family’s 42-year rule.
Makdissi, in his remarks Sunday, accused some U.N. countries of “openly working against Syria” and rejected the notion of an armed opposition in the country.
“There is no armed opposition in Syria. There is either an intellectual opposition, and we welcome their participation in national dialogue, or there are armed terrorist gangs that refuse the political resolution,” Makdissi said.
“The Houla massacres are an integral part of the so-called intelligence war — or the psychological warfare — against Syria,” said Jamal al-Mahmoud of the state-run Department of Political Science at Damascus University, according to the state-run Tishreen newspaper. “It is a policy carried out the enemies of Syria such as the United States, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and France to stage acts of revenge and to create chaos instead of restoring the security and the stability that the Syrian citizen needs.”
But opposition activists say in Houla, entire families were slaughtered by government forces.
“This is a clear evidence that Kofi Annan’s plan is dead and a clear indication that Bashar Assad and his criminal gang do not understand anything but the language of force and violence,” Eddine said. He urged the U.N. Security Council to “issue urgent and swift resolutions to save Syria, its people and the entire region by forming an international coalition mandated by the UNSC to launch airstrikes” against regime forces and their strategic points.
CNN can not independently confirm details from Syria nor the authenticity of videos. The government strictly limits access by foreign journalists.
Lt. Bassim al-Khaled, a spokesman of the rebel Free Syrian Movement, said more bloodshed is coming. The al-Assad government is using the cease-fire and peace plan “to kill more people and is trying to crush the uprising,” al-Khaled said.
“So the only language this regime is going to understand is the language of the gun,” al-Khaled said. “Wait and see, we will make them pay for each drop of blood which was shed.”
U.N. officials say more than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, have died and tens of thousands have been uprooted since the uprising began in March 2011. Opposition groups report a death toll of more than 11,000 people.
CNN’s Saad Abedine, Holly Yan, Mohammed Jamjoom, Omar Al Muqdad, Richard Roth and Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.
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