Syrian activists say soldiers and pro-government militias killed dozens of men, women and children in a former rebel stronghold recaptured by the military, prompting an exiled opposition group to call for urgent international intervention to protect civilians.
State-run media in Damascus Monday confirmed the deaths in the central city of Homs, but said “armed terrorists” had killed the victims and filmed their bodies in order to influence discussions at the United Nations in favor of “foreign interference” in Syria.
Both sides deny responsibility. Syrian restrictions on independent reporting make it impossible to reconcile the contradictory accounts of the killings.
Amateur videos posted on the Internet show the mutilated corpses of at least 45 victims in the Homs' neighborhood where the deaths occurred Sunday. The Syrian Network for Human Rights said the army arrested several families and took them to “shabiha” militias in nearby neighborhoods known for supporting the government. The London-based group said about 30 men were tortured, shot, doused with gasoline and set on fire, and that women and children were killed separately.
Leaders of the Syrian National Council, the main expatriate opposition group, later issued a statement calling for the international imposition of a no-fly zone, safe corridors for civilians, and weapons for the Free Syrian Army.
The killings apparently were carried out as former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan concluded his failed, two-day mission to Damascus aimed at attempting to secure a negotiated settlement. Annan left Syria without a deal. Reports of the atrocities came as U.N. Security Council foreign ministers met in New York Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Russia and China to join international “humanitarian and political efforts” to end the violence, which she blamed directly on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's “military machine.”
Her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, agreed that Syrian authorities “bear a huge share of responsibility.” But he insisted that armed elements of the Syrian opposition also are responsible for the crisis, and that the Security Council must act “without imposing any prejudged solutions.”
Russia and China have vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian government's deadly crackdown on its opponents. They say the resolutions call for interfering in Syria's internal affairs. Also Monday, investigators told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that Syria's government has subjected civilians to collective punishment, and that its forces are accused of carrying out executions and mass arrests in Homs.
In Washington, security analyst Anthony Cordesman told VOA that as long as it looks like President Assad can use his significant military resources to cling to power, the political stalemate at the international level is unlikely to change.
U.N. officials estimate that 7,500 people have died in the year-long violence.