UN Security Council meets to discuss massacre in Syria


The UN Security Council will meet tonight to discuss the killing of at least 109 people in the Syrian town of Houla, a council diplomat said, a sign of mounting outrage at the massacre which the government and rebels blamed on each other.

Images of bloodied and lifeless young bodies, lain carefully side by side after the onslaught on Friday, triggered shock around the world and underlined the failure of a six-week-old UN ceasefire plan to stop the violence.

Western and Arab states opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad put the blame for the deaths squarely on the government.Russia, which along with China has vetoed Security Council resolutions calling for tougher action, said the "tragic" events in Syria deserve condemnation and called for a UN assessment of the violence there.

Moscow rejected a British and French proposal for a Security Council statement on the Houla massacre on Saturday, demanding a briefing from the head of the UN observer mission General Robert Mood first.

That has now been arranged, diplomats said.

The council is to meet later this evening. In his public comments so far, General Mood called the killings "a very tragical expression" of the situation in Syria, but refrained from apportioning blame.

"For myself, I have had patrols on the ground all the day yesterday afternoon and today we are gathering facts on the ground and then we will draw our own conclusions," Gen Mood told the BBC in a telephone interview today.

"The sight like the one that now has been played out in Houla, it hits the stomach, it's really an attack on the future of the Syrian people. There are still those in Syria who believe the use of violence and quite deplorable use of violence serves their own self-interest," he said.

Gen Mood's UN military and civilian observer mission counted 32 children under 10 years old among at least 92 dead in Houla yesterday.

More bodies have since been found, activists said.The observers confirmed the use of artillery, which only Dr Assad's forces have, but did not say how all the victims died.Syrian authorities blamed "terrorists" for the massacre, among the worst carnage in the 14-month-old uprising against Assad, which has cost about 10,000 lives.

"Women, children and old men were shot dead. This is not the hallmark of the heroic Syrian army," foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi told reporters in Damascus.

But UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused the Syrian government of using artillery in populated areas.

"This appalling and brutal crime involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and violence in all its forms," they said in a joint statement yesterday.

The views reached by Mr Annan and the briefing by Gen Mood are likely to be very influential at the Security Council.