The United Nations said on Saturday that more than 92 people were killed in an artillery barrage by government forces in the worst violence since the start of a U.N. peace plan to slow the flow of blood in Syria’s uprising, reported Reuters.
92 people were killed in one of the bloodiest incidents durong the 15-month long uprising, after a 12-hour regime assault on Houla, in the central province of Homs.
“This morning U.N. military and civilian observers went to Houla and counted more than 32 children under the age of 10 and over 60 adults killed,” the head of U.N. team monitoring the ceasefire – which has yet to take hold – said.
“The observers confirmed from examination of ordinances the use of artillery tank shells,” Major General Robert Mood said in a statement. “Whoever started, whoever responded and whoever carried out this deplorable act of violence should be held responsible.”
According to The Telegraph, amateur videos posted on YouTube showed footage of the mangled bodies of 14 child victims lying in rows in a makeshift morgue set up at a local mosque.
Houl is a collection of villages with a population of about 40,000 people. The settlement lies on a plain around 25 miles north-west of the city of Homs, itself the subject of a brutal siege by President Assad’s forces in February.
Houls is home mainly to members of Syria’s Sunni Islam majority, but borders areas dominated by President Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
“The operation started about midday, with the use of about 50 or 60 mortar shells. Then they started to use tanks and heavy artillery for two hours. After that they deployed about 13 or 14 cars with mounted guns, and raided houses at random. They took people out and started shooting indiscriminately,” Mousab Azzawi, of the Syrian Network of Human Rights, told The Sunday Telegraph.
“At about 7pm on Friday, a lot of Shabiha (pro-regime militiamen) came from three nearby Alawite villages. They killed some kids by knife, some by gun and some by suffocation. I saw with my eyes dozens of bodies of women and children,” one local eyewitness, who gave his name only as Mohammed, said.
A joint statement from UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan said firing heavy weapons into a residential neighbourhood was a “flagrant violation of international law” which must stop and those responsible should be held to account, says BBC.
Kofi Annan would be contacting Syria’s government to “convey in the clearest terms the expectations of the international community, and he will also do so during his forthcoming visit to Syria”, it said.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would seek a strong global response to the “appalling crime”.
The Syrian government broadcast footage of the casualties, blaming them instead on “armed terrorist” groups which it said had also killed several government troops.
Sheikh Abudllah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister, requested an urgent meeting of the Arab League while Arab League head Nabil Elaraby called the killing in Houla a “horrific crime.”
At the same time, the opposition Free Syrian Army announced it could no longer commit to the ceasefire unless the Security Council can ensure that civilians are protected.
More than 12,600 people are now estimated to have died in Syria in the revolt against Mr Assad’s rule.
Laurent Fabius, France’s Foreign Minister, said that he was making immediate arrangements for a Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria group, which includes Western and Arab nations, but not Russia or China, who have blocked previous attempts to introduce UN sanctions.