UN Security Council Blames Syria Massacre Partly on Government

Posted May 28th, 2012 at 1:35 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

The U.N. Security Council has issued a statement strongly condemning the Syrian government for firing artillery and tank shells at a rebellious town last week during a massacre of at least 108 people, many of them children.

In the press statement issued Sunday, the Council said U.N. observers had confirmed the killing of dozens of civilians “in attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood” of Houla in central Syria.

The 15-nation body also condemned the killing of Houla residents “by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse” in last Friday's incident, one of the deadliest of Syria's nearly 15-month rebellion against longtime President Bashar al-Assad. But, the Council's non-binding statement did not say who was responsible for the shooting or physical abuse.

Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to the Council saying U.N. observers who viewed the bodies of the Houla victims Saturday saw wounds from artillery and gunfire. He said the monitors also found artillery and tank shells and fresh tank tracks in the area. The observers reported seeing 108 corpses, including those of 49 children and 34 women.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja-afari repeated his government's denial of any role in the massacre, blaming it instead on armed terrorist groups Damascus says are behind the rebellion.

Russia approved the Security Council statement that assigned at least part of the blame for the massacre on the Assad government, a longtime Russian ally. But, Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Alexander Pankin said it remains “unclear what happened and what triggered what” in Houla. He said it is “difficult to imagine” that Damascus would “not only shell … but also use point-blank execution” against women and children.

British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant disagreed, saying the Houla killings were an “atrocity .. perpetrated by the Syrian government.” He said it is time for the Security Council to discuss next steps for dealing with the Syrian crisis. Russia and China have twice vetoed efforts by Western and Arab nations to pass Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Damascus.

The only measures approved by the Council on Syria include the backing of international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria and the deployment of several hundred unarmed U.N. soldiers in the country. The U.N. contingent has been trying to monitor an April truce agreement between government and rebel forces but the conflict has continued largely unabated.

Mr. Annan is due to travel to Syria in the coming days to follow up on his peace plan. Syrian officials have said the visit could come as soon as Monday.

Syrian rights activists also reported a deadly battle between security forces and rebels in the central town of Hama on Sunday. They said the fighting killed at least 30 people, including soldiers, rebels and civilians.

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.