Monday 28 May 2012
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Aleppo’s lecturers, academics and students protest against the massacres of Houla and Hama
Aleppo province: Protests took place in the Aleppo university square and several neighbouring streets protesting against the weekend massacres perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Houla and Hama. Clashes between protestors and security forces took place in various protests across Aleppo: Salaheddine, Saif al-Dawla, Halab al-Jadida, al-Shahba’, al-Arqoub, al-Haydariya and al-Zahra’.
Several schools saw its students protest against the massacre of children in Houla and Hama.
Aleppo’s lawyers did a sit-in protest inside the courts of justice building, by the Attorney General’s office.
In Reef Aleppo, citizens of al-Bab implemented a general strike to mourn the victims of the weekend massacres. protests came out of al-Tal, al-Safira and Qabaseen.
Dera’a province: An old man and his wife were shot and killed in their home in Kafr Shams, clashes in the area are taking place, an explosion targeted a military vehicle, 4 were injured. In Da’el, regime forces retreated to the outskirts of the city after 3 of its members were killed during clashes and one of their heavy vehicles was destroyed.
[local time] 22:27 British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday urged UN chief Ban Ki-Moon to step up the pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and help end the “despicable suppression” of the Syrian people.
19:38 Britain summoned Syria’s top diplomat in London to the Foreign Ministry on Monday to protest against the “sickening and evil” Houla massacre of more than 100 people, the government said.
18:40 Syria’s main opposition coalition called on Monday for countries that support the anti-regime uprising to honor their promises by helping Syrians defend themselves.
18:19 The latest wave of bloodshed in Syria has forced Israel to end its long official silence on events taking place across its northern border, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson told AFP on Monday.
18:06 Syrian security forces shelled Homs’ Jawbar amid fears of an imminent raid, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Monday.
17:53 Violence raged on Monday across Syria, where at least 36 people, most of them regime forces, were reported killed as clashes erupted in several restive provinces, monitors said.
17:21 Syria’s leaders will have to answer for their “murderous folly,” the French president’s office said Monday, a day after the UN Security Council condemned the slaughter of civilians there.
14:51 World inaction after the killing of more than 100 people, half of them children, in the Syrian town of Houla at the weekend will only encourage Damascus to commit more massacres, Tunisia said Monday.
14:08 The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria lashed out Monday at the UN Security Council for sending what it said was the “wrong message” to Damascus by only condemning the Houla massacre.
13:35 Britain warned on Monday that failure by the two sides in Syria to implement UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan could lead to “all-out civil war and collapse” in the violence-torn country.
13:31 The United Nations, not Syria, must investigate the Houla massacre, Human Rights Watch said adding that witness testimony suggest government forces were responsible for the carnage.
13:15 UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan said he was “shocked” at the weekend’s “tragic events” in the central Syrian town of Houla as he arrived in Damascus on Monday for talks with top officials.
12:45 Italy is ready to support humanitarian corridors as part of any tougher UN resolution aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria, its foreign minister said on Monday after a massacre triggered global outrage.
11:48 Russia said on Monday it did not support the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad but urged world powers to work for the peace plan of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and not regime change.
11:12 Violence in Syria killed nearly 90 people on Sunday, more than a third of them in random shelling of Hama city by troops retaliating for losses suffered in clashes with rebels, a watchdog said.
11:04 China on Monday condemned a massacre of more than 100 people in the central Syrian town of Houla and called for an immediate investigation to identify those responsible.
10:05 UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan will hold talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, a Syrian official said.
9:15 MORNING LEADER: The UN Security Council on Sunday strongly condemned the Syrian government for using artillery in a massacre in which at least 108 people were killed and 300 others injured.
9:15 The massacre of more than 100 people in a Syrian village could be a watershed for President Bashar al-Assad and his negotiating rival Kofi Annan. Diplomats say the signs are not good for the efforts of either man.
9:10 Iran on Monday condemned killings in the Syrian town of Houla, blaming them on “terrorist actions” rather than its Damascus ally and calling for the perpetrators to be punished.
8:05 A Syrian military offensive on Sunday left 33 people dead in and around the restive town of Hama, with seven children among the latest victims, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
7:52 UN leader Ban Ki-moon said Sunday that the Houla massacre in Syria had added to pressure on UN observers, as some in the conflict-stricken country blame them for an increase in violence.
Peace envoy Kofi Annan denounced the killing of at least 108 people in the Syrian town of Houla as “an appalling crime” on Monday and urged President Bashar al-Assad to prove he wants a peaceful resolution to the crisis racking his country.
Assad’s forces killed at least 41 people in an artillery assault on the city of Hama, activists said, shortly after the U.N. Security Council condemned Friday’s massacre in nearby Houla and put at least partial blame on Assad’s heavy weaponry.
The Damascus government, however, denied troops played any role at Houla, blaming the killings on knife-wielding Islamists.
With international criticism growing of Assad’s methods in trying to crush a 14-month-old uprising, now accompanied by a lightly armed insurgency, U.N./Arab League envoy Annan visited Damascus for talks on his faltering peace plan.
He explicitly urged the Syrian government to “take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully” before adding: “This message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun.”
Russia and China, which had previously vetoed U.N. resolutions condemning Assad, both approved a non-binding text in New York on Sunday that criticized the use of artillery and tank shells on homes in Houla – weapons the rebels do not have.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry, however, in an open letter to the Security Council, denied tanks played any part and blamed instead hundreds of Islamist “terrorists” armed with knives.
China said it was “deeply shocked by the large number of civilian casualties in Houla, and condemns in the strongest terms the cruel killings of ordinary citizens, especially women and children”.
U.N. monitors say at least 108 people were killed in Houla, among them dozens of children.
But many of the victims were also hacked to death or shot at close range, as shown in graphic images distributed by activists, and U.N. monitors were unable to establish conclusively who killed these.
Russia and China have resisted joining Western and Arab League sanctions against Assad. Both reaffirmed on Monday that Annan’s plan, accepted by both sides in the conflict, was the only way forward and Russia suggested that the violence in Houla had been intended to sabotage his visit.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said support for the agreement, and a peaceful resolution, should be stepped up.
The deal calls for heavy weapons to be pulled out of towns and cities, followed by an end to fighting, and dialogue.
But the attack on Hama was a reminder that the plan, policed by just 300 monitors, has done little to stem the violence.
“The six-point plan has to be implemented comprehensively, and this is not happening,” said Annan, who was to meet Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Monday and Assad on Tuesday.
Opposition sources said Syrian tanks and armored vehicles opened fire on several neighborhoods of Hama on Sunday after attacks by rebel Free Syrian Army fighters on roadblocks and other positions manned by Assad’s forces.
The dead in the course of 24 hours included five women and eight children, the Hama Revolution Leadership Council said in a statement. “Tank shelling brought down several buildings. Their inhabitants were pulled out from the rubble.”
The report could not be independently verified.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in a letter to the Security Council that he hoped Syria would use Annan’s visit to “fundamentally change course and choose diplomacy over guns to ensure that the legitimate aspirations for freedom, dignity and prosperity of the Syrian people are met”.
Ban said a cluster of villages in the Houla area had been outside government control until Friday.
Houla is mostly populated by Sunni Muslims, while many of the surrounding villages are dominated by Alawites, the offshoot of Shi’ite Islam that provides most of Assad’s ruling cadre.
A video distributed by activists showed an injured woman, who said she had survived the Houla massacre, blaming members of Assad’s shabbiha militia for the carnage.
“They entered our homes … men wearing fatigues herding us like sheep in the room, and started spraying bullets at us,” said the woman, lying next to another injured woman and near a baby with a chest wound.
“My father died and my brother, my mother’s only son. Seven sisters were killed.”
“TSUNAMI OF LIES”
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari reiterated his government’s assertion that the massacre was the work of “armed terrorist groups” – the Syrian government’s term for the rebels.
He dismissed a “tsunami of lies” from the British, French and German envoys, who blamed the government for the massacre, among the worst carnage in an uprising that has cost more than 10,000 lives.
“We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed Syria by phone, condemning the “senseless murderous brutality of the Damascus regime” as a threat to regional security.
While both endorsed the Annan plan, they also called for an “orderly democratic transition” for Syria. Hollande said France would call a meeting in Paris of the Friends of Syria – Western and Arab countries that want Assad’s rule to end.
Britain summoned Syria’s envoy to express its condemnation of the massacre. Senior Foreign Office official Geoffrey Adams said that unless the Annan plan was implemented in full, the international community would “take further quick and robust action in response”.
Russia has accused the United States and Europe of pursuing Libya-style regime change in Syria, and is wary of endorsing any measures that could become a prelude to armed intervention.
Media reports have suggested that Washington is trying to enlist Russia for a plan of the kind that brought about a handover from Yemen’s leader of three decades, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to an administration led by his own vice-president.
Russia has leverage over Syria through its Security Council veto and arms supply contracts, but does not wield the kind of influence that Saudi Arabia had over Saleh as his main financier.
Russia also has a strong interest in keeping its Syrian naval base at Tartous, and may still see Assad’s survival as the best guarantee of this.
At his news conference with Hague, Lavrov criticized those who argued that there could be no solution to Syria’s crisis while Assad remained in power.
Washington has explicitly said Assad must step down, and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN: “Of course we always have to provide military options and they should be considered.”
But he stressed that the international community should use economic and diplomatic measures first to try to push Assad to “make the right decision”.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby sent letters to several foreign ministers describing actions in Syria as “a blatant violation of international human rights law and called for more international monitors to put an end to the “grave violations and the crimes committed in Syria”.
The Syrian National Council, the main umbrella group of exiled opposition figures, on Monday made its strongest call yet for foreign intervention.
“It’s high time for concrete intervention to stop the daily massacres against the Syrian people,” it said in a statement.
“The council appeals to all friends and brothers of the Syrian people to supply it immediately with effective means of self defense before it is too late.”
Assad has counted on sympathy from the Alawites as well as from an urban merchant class, relatively prosperous and drawn from the Sunni majority. In a sign that some of that support might be weakening, activists said Sunni traders in the capital shuttered stores in Monday in a protest at the killings in Houla and other violence in which Sunnis have been killed.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in New York, Doina Chiacu in Washington, Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman, Dominic Evans in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Peter Millership and Alastair Macdonald)
- Syrian bombardment of Hama kills 41: opposition: 6:18am EDT
- Syrian government: Islamists behind Houla massacre: 3:25pm EDT
- Damascus merchants strike over Houla killings: 3:24pm EDT
Syrian rebels were partly responsible for Friday’s massacre in Houla, Russia’s foreign minister says, as Kofi Annan arrives in Damascus.
Rebels in Syria are partly responsible for the massacre of more than 100 people in the Houla region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says.
Mr Lavrov, whose government a close ally of the Syrian regime, said some victims had been killed at close range in a district controlled by rebels.
The UN condemned the killings, saying government artillery was involved.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has arrived in Damascus for talks on implementing his peace plan.
He called on “every individual with a gun” to lay down their arms.
“I have come to Syria at a critical moment in this crisis,” Mr Annan said shortly after his arrival.
“I am personally shocked and horrified by the tragic incident in Houla.
At a joint news conference with UK counterpart William Hague in Moscow, Mr Lavrov said that Russia was “deeply alarmed” by the massacre in Houla.
“We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people,” he said.
“There is no doubt that the government used artillery and tanks and this has been reported by UN observers who have visited the scene.
“There is also no doubt that many bodies have been found with injuries from firearms received at point-blank range. So the blame must be determined objectively.”
He said the causes of the massacre must be understood so that it could never be repeated.
Asked if President Bashar al-Assad could be part of the solution in Syria, he said that ending the violence was more important than who was in power.
“We do not support the Syrian government. We support the plan of Kofi Annan,” he said.
The Syrian government insists the killings were carried out by “terrorists”.
Russian diplomats, along with the Chinese, have previously vetoed action proposed by the Security Council.
On Monday, China also condemned the “cruel killings” but did not apportion blame to either side.
Mr Hague renewed Britain’s call for Mr Assad to comply with Mr Annan’s peace plan, warning of “ever increasing chaos”.
Forty-nine children and 34 women were among Friday’s dead, the UN has confirmed.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague: “The Syrian government has the primary responsibility for the violence that takes place”
The BBC’s Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says there is no sign that the Syrian government’s behaviour on the ground has changed as a result of the Houla massacre.
Fighting in Syria has continued despite the deployment of some 280 UN observers monitoring the ceasefire brokered by Mr Annan.
On Monday, witnesses in Damascus said market-stall traders and shopkeepers had gone on strike in protest at the Houla massacre.
Security personnel later moved in and forced them to open their stalls and shops.
The statement also condemned the Houla killings, saying they involved both government artillery and gunfire at close range.
Taldou, Houla region
- The region of Houla, in the west of Syria, comprises several villages and small towns
- The village of Taldou lies around 2km south-west of the main town, also called Houla
- The area is in the province of Homs, which has seen heavy fighting in recent months
- Houla’s villages are predominantly Sunni Muslim, but the region is ringed by a number of Alawite villages – the sect of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad
Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, accused some members of the council of trying to mislead the world.
“Neither [UN observer mission head Maj Gen Robert] Mood nor anybody else told the Security Council in the informal session that he would blame the Syrian government forces for what happened,” he said.
Gen Mood told the BBC that UN monitors were continuing their investigations in Houla.
Mr Annan arrived in Damascus on Monday and will hold talks with President Assad on Tuesday.
Under Mr Annan’s plan, both sides were to stop fighting on 12 April ahead of the deployment of monitors, while the government was to withdraw tanks and forces from civilian areas.
The unrest in Syria has killed at least 10,000 people since protests against President Assad broke out in March 2011.
Analysis Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic Correspondent
Russia is the key external actor in this drama. It maintains close political, military and economic ties with the Syrian regime.With Washington increasingly talking about a Yemen-style transition in the country, Moscow’s voice and inside knowledge could be even more important.
The problem is that the UN and the wider international community have no alternative: no “Plan B”.
There is absolutely no appetite for military intervention at this stage.
President Assad is effectively being asked to step aside and this he is not prepared to do. As the bloodshed and frustration continue the likelihood is that the country may descend further into a brutal civil war.
And there is every sign that those countries in the Gulf which see the only option as arming the Syrian opposition are already re-doubling their efforts.
Is this massacre a sign of things to come? It certainly did not come out of the blue
Barely had Kofi Annan’s feet touched the ground after Friday’s massacre in Houla, when reports came through of another mass killing from an artillery assault on Hama. The war Bashar al-Assad is waging against his own people does not pause for the arrival of a UN envoy. It carries on simultaneously and often in the same area. Annan is getting no more and no less than the treatment reserved for a growing list of foreign intermediaries.
The horror of Houla is more than just a humanitarian challenge. In a 15-month conflict which has largely been left to run on its own steam, is this massacre a sign of things to come? It certainly did not come out of the blue. Most of the 13 neighbourhoods of Homs that have been emptied of residents by the fighting are close to Allawite communities, from the Shia sect forming the backbone of the regime. For months, the adjoining Allawite villagers heard the chants of defiance from Houla, which had become a stronghold of the opposition militia and home of many of the families of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Perhaps that is why, when men in uniform appeared in the enclave after the shelling had largely stopped on Friday evening, they killed men, women and children alike, some of them infants. Some of the victims had their wrists bound, according to one video. Many had shots to the head or had been hacked to death. A reconstruction of events by Human Rights Watch, which talked to survivors, confirmed the indiscriminate nature of the killing.
Russia suggested that the violence in Houla had been intended to sabotage Annan’s visit, and Assad’s regime blamed al-Qaida, as it now does for every civilian who dies. As only one side in this conflict has tanks and artillery, a non-binding resolution by the UN security council, which criticised the use of artillery and tank shells on homes in Houla, is explicitly a condemnation of the Syrian government alone. However, to keep face with a policy it is in the process of jettisoning, Russia continued to suggest on Monday that the close-quarter killings in Houla could have been conducted by the rebels’ own side. Some fighters linked to al-Qaida are indeed in Syria, a combination of jihadis with close tribal links from Iraq’s Anbar province and zealots from Libya. The big car bomb attacks in Damascus are probably their work. But to suggest “armed terrorist groups” alone account for civilian deaths, or that the ranks of the opposition fighters have been “stiffened” by Islamist jihadis linked to al-Qaida, is doing Assad’s work for him, especially in the context of a war that is rapidly becoming sectarian. Nor, when reporters enter rebel-held areas, is there evidence of Assad’s claims that the opposition groups are foreign terrorists. The Guardian found on its latest foray into rebel-held territory that the FSA were not flush with ammunition – every bullet seemed to count. Nor was there any trace of foreign jihadis. It was not difficult to find them in Chechnya. Rather, they found you.
Assad is undermining the Annan plan at the risk of losing the support of the last two members of the UN security council, which have held out against a Libyan-style intervention – Russia and China. With a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards admitting the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, it is brutally clear what will happen down the line if the conflict carries on. Syria will disintegrate into a Lebanese-style civil war, with shockwaves throughout the region. Already tremors are being felt in Lebanon itself.
This is in no one’s interest, but least of all that of Russia, which wants to keep a naval foothold in the country. The more the conflict degenerates Houla-style, the sooner Russia will be tempted to consider what is being called in Moscow the Yemenskii variant – the Saudi-backed plan for Yemen which saw the dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh off, but kept family members initially in place. For Russia, civil war and sectarian chaos in Syria is as potent a threat to its strategic interests as a Nato intervention. It’s late to the table, but Russia’s support for Annan could yet save the plan.
28 May 2012: ‘Those responsible for these brutal crimes must be held accountable’, Bashar al-Assad’s regime told …
28 May 2012: Syrian boy, 11, claims he played dead to escape pro-Assad gunmen who killed five members of family in Houla