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.

Opposition groups contacted by phone in northern Syria say regime forces have not launched operations in any areas other than Idlib since the Houla killings. – (Guardian service)


THE UNITED Nations-backed peace plan for Syria grew out of the efforts of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the organisation and the Arab League’s special envoy, to achieve an end to violence. Following is the text of the six-point plan:

All parties –

1. Commit to work with the envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the envoy;

2. Commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilise the country.

To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres.

As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.

Similar commitments would be sought by the envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;

3. Ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two- hour humanitarian pause and to co-ordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level;

4. Intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;

5. Ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;

6. Respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.

Implementation of the plan, and adherence to it, is supposed to be overseen by an unarmed UN monitoring mission of some 200 to 250 observers. – (UN/agencies)