Witnesses reveal full horror of civilian massacre
THE flat, once peaceful town of Houla is an unforgiving place in which to try to investigate what could well be a major war crime and is certainly a significant massacre of civilians.
Martin Griffiths, the deputy commander of the UN's observer mission to Syria, yesterday attempted to lead a small team of peace monitors and aid workers into the area where at least 90 people died on Friday, despite the firefights that continued to rage all the time they were there.
"It is difficult, very difficult," Mr Griffiths said. "We found one family -- a mother and her four children -- all of them were dead."
As his UN team went about the business of monitoring a ceasefire -- which in Houla does not really exist -- the continuing violence clearly put them in danger,
"The Syrian army sent up an armoured personnel carrier. It was armed with a large cannon and it passed our vehicles and fired off two rounds," Mr Griffiths said.
"That, of course, caused another firefight which obviously delayed our work and held us up a bit."
Something of a typical understatement from this quiet but determined Englishman -- but the UN team did manage enough time in Houla to assess just what happened during Friday's atrocity.
Mr Griffiths said both the Free Syrian Army (FSA) command in Rastan and civilian eyewitnesses in Houla itself had said the same thing.
Shelling of the town began at about 12.30pm after prayers and lasted about two hours. Then, from around 3pm, groups of armed civilian militias -- known as the 'Shabiha' -- began moving house to house and the killings, using knives and firearms, began and continued until about 2am on Saturday.
The Syrian army on the ground in Houla and their political masters in Damascus say it was the work of "terrorists", by which they mean the FSA. Yet all around you in Houla there is compelling evidence to suggest it is Syria's government and Syria's army who are telling the lies.
The evidence is simply this: the fact that in Houla you still find civilians where the FSA control the ground. Yet there are none (except corpses) where the Syrian army is in control. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)