DAMASCUS / ANKARA
The massacre of 92 people, including children, in Syria’s Houla town causes outrage across the world. Damascusdenies responsibility while rebels call on Friends of Syria nations for air strikes against al-Assad forces
Blame game starts after a massacre in which 92, including 32 kids, were killed. AP photo
The United Nations led calls on May 26 for urgent international action on Syria after allegations of a horrific massacre by regime forces that left 92 people dead, more than a third of them children.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan jointly condemned the “appalling and brutal crime,” which involved “indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force,” and was “a flagrant violation” of international law and commitments by Syria’s government not to use heavy weapons or violence.
“Those responsible for perpetrating this crime must be held to account,” the U.N. chief and Annan added. The U.N. mission said 92 bodies, 32 of them children aged less than 10, had been counted in the central Syrian town of Hula after reports of an artillery bombardment by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi said the government was “not at all” responsible for the massacre in Hula, blaming “terrorists” for the killings on May 25 and May 26.
The spokesman said the government had opened an investigation. Al-Makdissi added that Annan was expected to arrive in Damascus today. The rebel Free Syrian Army said it was no longer committed to the U.N.-backed peace plan for Syria unless there was prompt U.N. intervention to protect civilians; the group also called for air strikes against regime forces. The head of the FSA’s military council, Turkey-based General Mustafa Ahmed al-Sheikh, urged the Friends of Syria nations to launch air strikes against al-Assad’s forces.
“Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. Condemnation also poured in from the European Union; British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London would seek an urgent session of the Security Council in the coming days, while France’s new foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said he was making immediate arrangements for the Friends of Syria nations to meet in Paris.
The U.N. mission chief in Syria, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, condemned what he described as a “brutal tragedy” in Hula. “Whoever started, whoever responded to and whoever carried out this deplorable act of violence should be held responsible,” Mood said. Mood called “on the Syrian government to cease the use of heavy weapons and to all parties to cease violence in all its forms.” UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, meanwhile, called for an urgent Arab League meeting on the matter. Elsewhere, activists said a blast occurred yesterday near a military airport in the Mazzeh neighborhood of Damascus, causing casualties.
Ankara angered by massacre
The Houla massacre also angered Ankara, which condemned and deplored the slaughter in the strongest terms. “The international community should demonstrate that it will not condone inhumane massacres like the one committed in Houla anymore, and that its patience regarding the fulfillment of [Syria’s] obligations under the Annan Plan is not infinite,” the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement late on May 26. The statement came immediately after Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
spoke on the phone with Kofi Annan, discussing recent developments in the country and the apparent failure to implement the Annan Plan.
“This massacre reveals that the Syrian administration regards the Annan Plan as a tool to procrastinate and to gain time. We call upon UNSMIS (the U.N. Supervision Mission) to examine the situation on the ground as soon as possible and to enlighten international public opinion about the massacre committed there accordingly,” the ministry’s statement read.
Accusing the Syrian administration of disregarding the commitments it has assumed under the Annan Plan, the statement said “the shelling by a country’s official security forces of its own cities constitutes the most tangible proof that the government of that country has totally lost its legitimacy to rule.”
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.
US, RUSSIA TO ‘WORK’ ON SYRIA
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is considering working with Russia
on a plan calling for the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad under a proposal modeled on the transition in Yemen, The New York Times reported yesterday. The newspaper said the plan calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of al-Assad’s government in place. Its goal is the kind of transition under way in Yemen, where after months of violent unrest, President Ali Abdullah Saleh
agreed to step down and hand control to his vice president. Obama will press the proposal to his Russian
counterpart Vladimir Putin, according to the report.