BEIRUT – Special envoy Kofi Annan said Monday he was horrified by agruesome weekend massacre that killed more than 100 people inSyria, and called on “every individual with a gun” to lay down armsand stop the killing. Annan arrived in Damascus Monday for talks with Syrian PresidentBashar Assad and other senior officials. “I have come to Syria at a critical moment in this crisis,” Annansaid as he arrived in Damascus on Monday. “I am personally shockedand horrified by the tragic incident in Houla.” He called on all sides of the conflict to end the bloodshed.
“This message of peace is … for everyone, for every individualwith a gun,” he said. The mass killings Friday in Houla, a collection of villages in thecentral province of Homs, prompted sweeping international criticismof the Syrian regime, although differences emerged from worldpowers over whether his forces were exclusively to blame. Syrian troops shelled several neighborhoods in Hama until the earlyhours of Monday, killing at least 24 people, the Britain-basedSyrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local CoordinationCommittees activist group said. Amateur videos showed a makeshifthospital where several people lay on the floor either dead orwounded.
Further details were not immediately clear. The violence comes at a time of deep concern over the conflict inSyria. The Houla massacre was one of the deadliest single days ofthe country’s uprising, which is in its 15th month. Syria has strongly denied allegations that its forces carried outthe killings, but the U.N. Security Council after an emergencysession Sunday condemned government forces for shelling residentialareas. Aqua Park Equipment
Human Rights Watch urged a swift investigation. “There’s no way a Syrian military commission can crediblyinvestigate this horrendous crime when so much evidence suggestspro-government forces were responsible,” said Sarah Leah Whitson,Middle East and North Africa director at the New York-based group.”Annan should insist that Syria grant access to the U.N. commissionof inquiry to investigate this and other grave crimes.” The brutality of the killings became clear in amateur videos postedonline that showed scores of bodies, many of them young children,in neat rows and covered with blood and deep wounds. A later videoshowed the bodies, wrapped in white sheets, being placed in asprawling mass grave. The United Nations estimates that 9,000 people have been killedsince the uprising began in March 2011, but hundreds more have beenkilled since the U.N. China Fiberglass Water Slides
provided that figure. The Security Council issued a press statement Sunday that”condemned in the strongest possible terms” the killings in Houla.It blamed Syrian forces for artillery and tank shelling ofresidential areas. It also condemned the killings of civilians “byshooting at close range and by severe physical abuse,” but avoidedsaying who was responsible for these attacks. The council’s statement said the “outrageous use of force” againstcivilians violated international law and Syrian governmentcommitments under previous U.N. Water Sprayground
resolutions to stop all violence,including the use of heavy weapons in populated areas. It said”those responsible for acts of violence must be held accountable,”and asked the U.N. observer mission in Syria and Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon to investigate the attacks and report back to thecouncil. Britain and France had proposed issuing a press statementcondemning the attack on civilians and pointing the finger at theSyrian government for Friday’s massacre.
But Russia called for anemergency council meeting saying it first wanted a briefing byMood, the head of the unarmed U.N. observer mission. The massacre in Houla cast fresh doubts on the ability of aninternational peace plan put forward by U.N.-Arab League envoy KofiAnnan to end Syria’s crisis, which is in its 15th month. Mood told the Security Council that U.N.
observers at the scene nowestimate 108 people were killed in Houla, U.N. peacekeeping chiefHerve Ladsous told reporters outside the council chamber. The U.N.counted 49 children and 34 women among the dead. Activists from the Houla area said the army pounded the villageswith artillery and clashed with local rebels after protests Friday.Some activists said pro-regime thugs later stormed the area, doingthe bulk of the killing by gunning down men in the streets andstabbing women and children in their homes.
The Syrian government rejected that narrative Sunday, painting avastly different picture. Speaking to reporters in Damascus, Foreign Ministry spokesman JihadMakdissi said Syrian security forces were in their local basesFriday when they were attacked by “hundreds of heavily armedgunmen” firing mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-tank missiles,staring a nine-hour battle that killed three soldiers and wounded16. The soldiers fought back, but didn’t leave their bases, he said. “No Syrian tank or artillery entered this place where the massacreswere committed,” he said.
“The security forces did not leave theirplaces because they were in a state of self-defense.” He blamed the gunmen for what he called a “terrorist massacre” inHoula and accused the media, Western officials and others ofspinning a “tsunami of lies” to justify foreign intervention inSyria. Makdissi did not provide videos or other evidence to support hisversion of events, nor did he give a death toll. He said thegovernment had formed a committee to investigate and share itsfindings with Annan, who is due to visit Damascus in the comingdays. Throughout the uprising, the government has deployed snipers,troops and thugs to quash protests and shelled opposition areas.