Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The war in Syria escalates with the brutal killing of 32 children

Exclusive dispatch: Assad blamed for massacre of the innocents


The war in Syria escalates with the brutal killing of 32 children


Patrick Cockburn Sunday, 27 May 2012




In a massacre of unprecedented savagery that brings

Syria close to civil war, some 32 children and 60

adults have been slaughtered in villages in the Houla

area of central Syria. Anti-government militants blame

pro-regime gunmen for carrying out the butchery in

which children and their parents were hacked and shot to death.


The figure for the number of children and adults killed

was confirmed in an interview with The Independent on

Sunday by General Robert Mood, the head of the team of

300 UN observers which is seeking to reduce the level

of violence. "My patrols went into the village," he

said. "I can verify that they counted 32 children under

10 killed. In addition, there were more than 60 adults dead."


General Mood would not explain how the villagers died,

but horrific pictures posted on YouTube appear to show

that they were shot or knifed to death, some having

their throats cut. The small bodies of the children

were covered in sheets as they were taken by survivors

screaming in grief and disbelief from the houses where

they had been murdered.


The massacre is the worst single incident in Syria's

14-month crisis because it involved the deliberate

murder of children as well as adults. Militants say the

perpetrators were pro-regime gunmen, known as the

shabiya, who had captured Houla. If true, the shabiya

may have been members of the Alawite sect, which is

supportive of the government. Alawites inhabit a string

of villages south of Houla, which is 25km north-west of

Homs. The Syrian leadership is largely drawn from the

Alawite sect.


General Mood said that fighting around Houla started on

Friday evening with the use of "tanks, artillery,

rocket-propelled grenades, and heavy machine guns".

This implied an attack by government forces since the

insurgent Free Syrian Army does not have heavy weapons.

This confirms the militants' story that there had been

big anti-government protests on Friday in Houla, where

there have previously been many anti-government demonstrations.


The calculated slaughter of Sunni villagers and their

children by Alawites brings a new level of violence to

Syria and propels it towards sectarian civil war.

Yesterday, Damascus was quiet aside from one protest in

an outlying district, but fighting has intensified at

Rastan, north of Homs. Observers from the UN

Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMS) have mediated a

ceasefire there, leaving insurgents in control of the

town. But this straddles the main highway linking

Damascus and Aleppo, so the government is unlikely to

allow the Free Syrian Army to hold the town for long.


The Houla massacre could mark a crucial stage in the

war in Syria because it will energise the insurgents

inside and outside the country. It will make it more

difficult for any compromise or new ceasefire to be

arranged between President Bashar Assad and his

opponents. It will increase hatred between Sunni and

Alawites, a heterodox branch of Shia Islam. This has

already been seen in the past week, with 11 Shia

pilgrims kidnapped by insurgents in Syria and 10 people

killed in associated violence in Lebanon. Houla is not

far from the Lebanese border, and the latest atrocity

is similar to what happened in the Lebanese civil war

between 1975 and 1990, when different communities

repeatedly massacred each other.


The pictures of the dead children of Houla are likely

to create an international outcry and underline that

the ceasefire arranged by the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi

Annan is foundering. General Mood confirmed yesterday

that there was no real ceasefire in Syria and said that

there could not be an effective one until the

combatants themselves implemented it. He emphasised

that unarmed UN monitors cannot impose a truce, though

in some areas, such as Homs, they have succeeded in

"calming" the situation. He said: "The solution to the

Syria crisis lies in the hands of the Syrian

government, the fragmented opposition, and those

outside fuelling the crisis by supplying arms and explosives."


Mr Annan is due in Damascus in the next few days to try

to patch up a new ceasefire, but neither the government

nor its opponents have carried through on past

agreements. The government suppression of peaceful

protest with gunfire and mass detentions has continued.

At the same time, the Islamicisation and militarisation

of the opposition is frightening minorities, such as

the Alawites, Christians and Druze. The government is

targeting moderate and secular opposition in order to

present a stark choice to Syrians, and the world,

between itself and Islamic fundamentalists.


Last night, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said:

"There are credible and horrific reports that a large

number of civilians have been massacred, including

children. Our urgent priority is to ensure those

responsible are held to account. We will be calling for

an urgent session of the UN Security Council in the

coming days. The Assad regime must cease all military operations."


The President and his First Lady... and their people


He is the President; she is the First Lady; they are

dead children. He governs but doesn't protect; she

shops and doesn't care; they will never grow old. His

father was an autocrat; hers a Harley Street doctor;

theirs are bereaved. He will sleep in his bed tonight;

so will she; they will be in their graves. However you

conjugate the lives of the Syrian leader and his

people, there is something very wrong.


Two days ago, they were all alive. He and she in their

gilded residence, looking much as they do in this

photograph - he sharp-suited, she sun-glassed and with

a watch of gold on her wrist. The children were in

their ramshackled homes in Houla, poor but alive. Then

the men of war came. When they left, the children were

as you see them here in this, the most grotesque

picture yet to emerge from this land of the alleged ceasefire.


There are still photographs of this scene, and video.

And over the footage that would bear more than enough

testimony to the redundant regime of Assad, the voice

of a man can be heard screaming. "These are all

children!" he cries, shrill with angry despair, "Watch,

you dogs, you Arabs, you animals - look at these

children, watch, just watch!"


And one hopes that those on the United Nations Security

Council, when it reconvenes, will look into the staring

eyes of these dead children and remember the hollow

words of Assad's wife when she simpered that she

"comforts the families" of her country's victims.




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