UN: 116 Dead in Houla; Damascus Denies Blame

Posted May 27th, 2012 at 3:55 pm (UTC-5)
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The United Nations' mission chief in Syria told the U.N. Security Council Sunday that at least 116 people, including many children, were killed in last week's attack on the central town of Houla.

General Robert Mood, told the 15-member council that another 300 people were wounded in the incident. U.N. observers had initially counted 92 dead in Houla.

International officials have largely blamed the government for Friday's massacre – in which at least 32 children under the age of 10 were murdered – but Damascus and Moscow have suggested it was carried out by rebel fighters.

Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad Makdissi called accusations against the Syrian government a “tsunami of lies”. Instead, he blamed heavily armed “terrorists” who he claimed attacked soldiers.

Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Alexander Pankin, said Moscow was skeptical the government was behind the massacre, saying it appeared most of the victims were either slashed with knives or shot at point-blank range.

U.N. observers said previously that artillery and tanks were used to pound Houla, located northwest of the central city of Homs.

Makdissi said Syrian soldiers retaliated to defend their positions, but he denied they had used artillery and tanks.

The Houla massacre marked the deadliest single attack since Syria's anti-government uprising began about 15 months ago.

Arab and western governments have issued statements expressing outrage and hinting that President Bashar al-Assad's government is to blame.

The latest violence has further raised questions about the effectiveness of an April cease-fire agreement between anti-government rebels and the Syrian government.

The rebel Free Syrian Army warned that it will not adhere to the U.N.-mediated peace plan if the international community does not take concrete actions to protect citizens.

Makdissi called the Houla assault “brutal” and said the Syrian government has launched an investigation.

Syrian troops shelled residential areas Sunday in the central city of Hama, and the rebel-held town of Rastan.

The Syrian government says U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who mediated the peace plan, is expected in Syria on Monday.

The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since the government began its crackdown on dissent in March 2011.