Europe talks of intervention while Russia and China firmly oppose it
diplomatic frenzy against Syrian
|A mass burial for the victims took place in Houla.|
Survivors told UN monitors at the scene that the score of door to door killings which left 49 children and 39 women dead, were carried out by pro-government ‘Shabeha’ militia forces.
Other eyewitnesses have pinned the blame on rebel fighters, claiming the attacks were retribution for those who refused to take up arms against government forces.
Syria's foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said that Syria was the victim of a “tsunami of lies.”
"We categorically deny the responsibility of government forces for the massacre," Makdissi said at a press conference in Damascus on Saturday. He added that anti-government gunmen were behind the attack.
Friday's attack in the Governorate of Homs has risen already-high tensions in Syria, with many in the international community quick to point fingers at Assad's forces.
Public anxiety was fueled by numerous undocumented amateur videos from Houla posted to YouTube showing dozens of bodies, including many women and children.
Although the videos were widely distributed by the media, the source could not be independently verified.
Damascus condemned the attack Saturday, saying it had no involvement in the massacre, and accused “terrorist” groups of being behind it.
The Syrian government quickly ordered an investigation into the incident.
Experts weigh in on massacre reports
Political analyst Ibrahim Alloush told RT that the way the attack was done and its timing “make it obvious” that Damascus is not responsible.
“It would not make sense for the Syrian army to commit these massacres and withdraw, and then just let the rebels come and take photos and make documentaries about them,” he explained.
Alloush also said that the timing of the attack makes it look even more suspicious.
“These crimes have come at a point when a political solution was slated for the Syrian crisis, and the people committed this crime do not want to see a political solution, instead they want to see an armed intervention, an international foreign intervention in Syria under pretext of massacres,” he concluded.
Marinella Correggia, an ecopeace activist and journalist, says many facts cast doubt on claims that Syrian government forces were behind the massacre.
First of all, the victims in the various online videos of the massacre appear to have been killed at close range and not as a result of artillery strikes.
“The children don’t seem to be the victims of shelling or artillery, but of direct killings from a short distance,” she said in an interview with RT. “Therefore it doesn’t seem possible to make a connection between the accusations by the opposition that the army attacked Houla with heavy weapons and the way the children were murdered.”
Secondly, Correggia points to the fact that some of the videos actually provide erroneous information.
“One of the videos on YouTube in Spanish says 'Assad bands killed children in Houla,' but in fact shows images of children in houses that SANA and Press TV say were killed by armed groups of the opposition in other villages.”
Correggia also said it's very difficult to understand who the people carrying out the massacre were. The fact that most killers wear ski masks over their faces makes it impossible for witnesses and survivors to give correct testimonials on exactly who these people are and who hired them.
She said the mainstream media were quick to jump to conclusions without considering all the facts.
“Although the head of the UN observer mission, General Robert Mood, did not attribute the massacre to anybody yet, and asked both government forces and the opposition to refrain from any form of violence, some mainstream media blamed the government, saying it was the UN that pointed the figure at the regime,” she noted.
Correggia said it was almost impossible that the government would carry out such a massacre.
“One should ask: cui prodest (who profits?),” she stressed. “Massacres happen right before either a Security Council meeting, like in the February Homs massacre, or before or during Kofi Annan’s visits, or after some military defeats. Therefore it seems to me almost impossible that government could order or give a green light to it.”
She expressed her belief that it was likely that massacres such as the one that happened in Houla were more likely a product of unbridled sectarian violence.
Former British intelligence officer Alastair Crooke strongly believes these attacks are not characteristic of the cultural region to which Syria belongs.
“This type of killing, beheadings, slitting of throats (of children too), and of this mutilation of bodies, has been a characteristic not of Levantine Islam, not of Syria, not of Lebanon, but what happened in the Anbar province of Iraq. And so it seems to point very much in the direction of groups that have been associated with the war in Iraq against the United States who have perhaps returned to Syria.”
Crooke believes “the attack is more close to Musab al-Zarqawi style (who declared an all out war on Shia in Iraq), than Al-Qaeda as we know it, in the sense that Zarqawi and Iraq gave birth to this very strong, bigoted, anti-Shia, anti-Iranian rhetoric. Much of that came into Syria when fighters from Anbar returned to their homes around Homs and Hama.”
“So yes, we’re talking about Al-Qaeda like groups that are at the very end of the spectrum of the opposition. They may be a minority in terms of the numbers of the overall opposition, but they are defining the war,” Crooke maintains.
The U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch said it interviewed survivors and local activists who said "the Syrian army shelled the area on May 25, and armed men, dressed in military clothes, attacked homes on the outskirts of town and executed entire families.
"All of the witnesses stated the armed men were pro-government, but they did not know whether they were members of the Syrian army or a pro-government militia, locally referred to as shabiha".
The Houla Massacre will also be brought to a rare gathering of the UN Human Rights Council. But what kind of findings will the council be presented? Anti-war campaigner Marinella Corregia is concerned UN observers only questioning opposition activists.
The meeting, set for Friday, has been called by 21 of the 47 council members. The request was officially submitted by Qatar, Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Denmark and the EU.
The UN top human rights body says most of the 108 victims of the massacre in the Syrian town of Houla were summarily executed – while less than 20 killings “can be attributed to artillery and tank fire.”
Corregia says that so far the UN Council on Human Rights used reports made up by their own commission of three envoys, working independently from UN monitors. The commission has never set foot on Syrian soil; their sources, as listed by the anti-war campaigner, appear to be: “The opposition groups (the UN Human Rights Council) spoke to on the phone; the opposition they met in Turkey; and other ‘activists’ they met in Geneva.”
Massive fallout from Houla killings
|Syria's Embassy in Washington.|
The UN Human Rights Council’s rulings mostly adds political weight to the efforts taken by other UN’s bodies, notably the UN Security Council. The Security Council – and prior to it the UN monitors in Syria – is yet to deliberate a final opinion who is responsible for the Houla massacre. But some political leaders seem to know their answer: Syrian diplomats have already been expelled from the US, the UK, France, Germany and other western countries across the world.
The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Australia are among several western countries who announced they would expel their Syrian ambassadors in response to the weekend’s massacre.
UN-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan spoke with President Bashar al-Assad “to convey the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria…in particular the recent events in Houla.”
He further said his six-point plan had to be fully implemented, and “this is not happening.”
Speaking with Annan by phone on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated his call that both sides in the conflict should halt all violence.
Lavrov had previously warned that some countries are exploiting the tragedy in order to push a military solution to the Syrian conflict.
He also condemned calls by Syrian National Council chair Burhan Ghalion to carry on fighting until the Security Council “agrees on military intervention.” The Russian FM said such talk was a direct provocation for civil war and directly contradicted the spirit of Anna’s peace plan.
UN Security Council issues statement condemning Houla Massacre
|In this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) meets with Kofi Annan, the United Nations special envoy to Syria, in Damascus, Syria, on May 29, 2012.|
"The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women and children and the wounding of hundreds more in the village of Houla, near Homs, in attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood," the statement reads "The members of the Security Council also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse."
The statement also chided the Syrian government for violating international laws under UN Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043. The Security Council members also reiterated that “all violence in all forms by all parties must cease” and that those responsible for it must be held accountable. The statement also asks the Secretary-General and the UNSMIS to continue the investigation of the attacks and to report the findings to the Security Council.
The document also called on the Syrian government to stop using heavy weapons, and to withdraw its troops and heavy weaponry from population centers. At the same time, the Security Council members reaffirmed their commitments to the “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity” of Syria.
Europe talks of Syria intervention
Meanwhile, after the Houla Massacre, the specter of military intervention in Syria is looming in European capitals.
An end to the Syrian crisis could be brought about by a military intervention sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, according to French President Francois Hollande, speaking on Tuesday to France 2 television.
"It is not possible to allow Bashar al-Assad's regime to massacre its own people," Reuters quoted Hollande as saying.
A similar statement came from Belgium, where Foreign Minister Didier Reynders' office called for a foreign military presence in Syria.
"While the basis for a military intervention is lacking in the international community, including in the Arab world, it must be possible to ponder a military presence, including security zones and a peace force," he said on Tuesday.
According to the statement, the “peace force” would protect the UN’s unarmed observers, ensure humanitarian aid reached its destination and enforce the respect of a ceasefire.
Earlier on Tuesday, Belgian Defense Minister Pieter de Crem said that his country would take part in any foreign force acting under a UN mandate. However, he ruled out a Libya-style NATO operation, saying that the alliance cannot act on behalf of the whole world.
Contrary to some European capitals that are speaking of possible use of force, the White House spoke against the U.S. military action in Syria. It would lead to greater chaos and carnage, said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"We do not believe that militarization, further militarization, of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action," he said, adding that the military action remains an option and is not yet taken off the table.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Tuesday that no plans for military options in Syria are currently in preparation.
"The focus remains on the diplomatic and economic track," Little said. "But at the end of the day, we in the Department of Defense have a responsibility to look at the full spectrum of options and to make them available if they're requested."
Russia and China will veto military intervention in Syria at UN Security Council
Russia, meanwhile, made an unambiguous statement that it is firmly dedicated not to let pass an initiative of foreign military intervention into Syria in the UN Security Council.
“We always said we’re strongly against any kind of external interference into the Syrian conflict, because it would only worsen the situation and bring unpredictable consequences for Syria and the whole region,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Interfax.
He also said that Russia is opposing the convention of a new UN Security Council meeting on Syria in the near future.
The UN Security Council president's statement concerning the tragic events in Houla, “is a strong enough signal to the Syrian parties and is a sufficient reaction of the Security Council,” the Russian diplomat told Interfax. Any new measures to affect the situation “would be premature for the Security Council,” he stressed.
China is siding with Russia regarding the Syrian conflict. On Wednesday, the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Liu Weimin confirmed the official position of Beijing being against any sort of foreign military intervention into internal Syrian affairs.
Tehran: Fallout from war on Syria would engulf Israel
Tougher words are coming from Tehran, the acting Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani told the Iranian parliament in an open session, that any crisis caused by a military intervention in Syria would definitely engulf Israel.
Mr. Larijani made the remarks on Wednesday in reference to calls by some European leaders and certain U.S. officials for a military campaign against Syria.
“U.S. military officials probably have a poor understanding of themselves and regional issues because Syria is in no way similar to Libya, and (the effects of) creating another Benghazi in Syria would spread to Palestine, and ash rising from the flames would definitely envelop the Zionist regime,” Larijani stated.
“It seems that the United States and the West are seeking to pave the way for a new crisis,” he added.
Larijani took aim at Saudi Arabia and Qatar without naming them accusing them of financing and arming Syrian opposition and pushing Syrians into a state of civil war. “Certain reactionaries in the region take pride in the fact that they have used money and weapons to destroy Syria and incite a civil war in that country.”
- TAAN, RT, Tehran Times, IPS, Reuters