Violence continues in outskirts of Houla
CLASHES BETWEEN opposition militias and the Syrian army continued yesterday on the outskirts of Houla, scene of a massacre five days ago, with farmers’ fields set alight and reports of new casualties.
Residents said they had still been unable to collect some bodies from two neighbourhoods widely believed to have been attacked by regime loyalists.
At least one child is reported to have been wounded by shellfire in Houla yesterday, despite persistent claims by the Syrian government that its army has not been in action in the village since Sunday.
The nearby Allawite villages, from which many of the attackers are believed to have approached Foulah and al-Qabou, have remained calm since the massacre.
Houla residents claimed some Allawites had donated blood, in what they portrayed as a bid to calm sectarian tensions. Locals have blamed civilian militias, called shabiha, from both villages for carrying out the massacre of about 110, including 49 children.
“The commitment of these people is beyond being merely political,” said a Houla resident, Abu Jaffour. “They have a commitment to kill for the regime.”
The UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said yesterday that the shabiha was “probably responsible for what took place. [Some] of the victims had been killed by artillery shells, now that points ever so clearly to the responsibility of the government. Only the government has heavy weapons, has tanks, has howitzers. But there are also victims from individual weapons, victims from knife wounds and that, of course, is less clear but probably points the way to the [pro-Assad] shabihas, the local militia,” he said.
This reporter on Monday spoke to an 11-year-old survivor whose family had been killed. He too blamed the shabiha and said they asked for all the men in his family by name. The boy is being treated in a field hospital for wounds caused by a bullet grazing his body. Like many other survivors in Houla, he is planning to leave Syria with a relative who is now looking after him.
The UN yesterday said that most of the victims appear to have been killed at close range, with about 20 dying in the intense shelling that launched the attack on Friday afternoon.
Elsewhere in Syria, more than 30 are thought to have died yesterday, with many of the deaths reported in Homs province, which surrounds Houla. Gunfire was also reported in Idlib, Deraa and several parts of Damascus, which played host to the UN special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan.
A labour strike is believed to have been called in the Old City of Damascus on Monday in response to the Houla killings, but there has been no discernible rise in violence in flashpoint areas, where control for swaths of land is contested by regime troops and the Free Syria Army, which is made up of large numbers of defectors.