Syria massacre victims shot at point-blank range
The majority of the 108 victims of the Houla massacre were executed at point-blank and less than 20 were killed by shellfire, the UN human rights office said yesterday.
Survivors say that the slaughter of the villagers, 83 of whom were women and children, was carried out by a pro-government militia called the Shabiha who went house-to-house on a killing spree in the wake of an artillery bombardment.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN Human Rights Commissioner, said UN ceasefire monitors who visited the area of Sunni Muslim villages found that fewer than 20 of the dead were killed by artillery fire.
The rest appeared to have been shot at close range, many of them in the Houla village of Taldou in two incidents. The Syrian government does not acknowledge that the Shabiha exist.
Eyewitnesses from Houla interviewed by Human Rights Watch said on Friday anti-government protesters gathered in Taldou, the largest town in the area, but were shot at by soldiers at a nearby checkpoint.
Armed militants attacked the checkpoint, provoking heavy shelling of Houla by tanks and mortars. As shellfire became heavier, gunmen wearing uniforms attacked eight or nine houses near Houla dam and killed people belonging to the Abdel Razzak extended family.
Reacting to the massacre the US State Department yesterday expelled Syria's top diplomat in Washington.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Syrian Charge d'Affaires Zuheir Jabbour had been called in and was given 72 hours to leave the country, part of a wave of expulsions of Syrian diplomats from Western capitals.
Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy Spain and the UK took similar steps in a coordinated move. The joint action marked a new phase in the struggling international effort to halt the repression of the 14-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and force him to relinquish power.
"We took this action in response to the massacre in the village of Houla -- the absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable massacre against innocent children, women, shot at point-blank range by regime thugs, the Shabiha," Ms Nuland said. (© Independent News Service)