92 killed in Syrian artillery barrage
BEIRUT A SYRIAN artillery barrage killed more than 92 people, including 32 children, in the worst violence since the start of a UN peace plan to staunch the flow of blood from Syria’s uprising, activists said on Saturday.
The bloodied bodies of children, some with their skulls rent by shrapnel, were shown lying in a room to the sound of wailing in footage posted to YouTube which purported to show the victims of the shelling in the central town of Houla on Friday.
The reports of the carnage, which could not be confirmed independently, underlined how far Syria is from any negotiated path out the 14-month-old revolt against president Bashar al Assad.
However, an AP report from Geneva quoted the head of the UN observer team in Syria saying at least 32 children under 10 years of age and more than 60 adults were killed in fighting in the centre of the country on Friday.
General Robert Mood condemned the attack in Houla, northwest of Homs, as a “brutal tragedy’ but did not identify who was responsible for the killing. He said UN observers found artillery tank shells at the site of the fighting.
A UK-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said residents of the town were fleeing in fear of more shelling.
Syrian state television aired some of the same footage disseminated by activists, calling the bodies victims of a massacre committed by “terrorist” gangs, without elaborating.
A member of the fragmented group that says it speaks for Syria’s political opposition said Assad’s forces had killed “entire families” in Houla in addition to the shelling.
“The Syrian National Council (SNC) urges the UN Security Council to call for an emergency meeting... and to determine the responsibility of the United Nations in the face of such mass killings,” SNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani said.
Opposition activists said Syrian forces opened fire with artillery after skirmishing with insurgents in Houla, a cluster of villages north of the city of Homs, itself battered by shelling.
Syria calls the revolt a “terrorist” conspiracy run from abroad, in a veiled reference to Sunni Muslim Gulf powers which call for arming an insurgency led by Syria’s majority Sunnis against Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect.
A six-week old ceasefire plan has failed to stop the violence in Syria, although the UN is nearing full deployment of a 300-member unarmed observer force meant to monitor a truce. The UN said on Friday that recent bomb attacks may have been the work of “established terrorist groups” and urged states not to supply arms to either the government or rebel forces.