Security Council Blames Syria Government over Massacreإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The U.N. Security Council on Sunday strongly condemned the Syrian government for using artillery in a massacre in which at least 108 people were killed and 300 others injured.
U.N. officials said the slaughter in Houla -- the subject of an emergency Security Council meeting -- claimed the lives of 49 children and 34 women.
Russia, Syria's main ally, signed up to the Security Council statement which "condemned in the strongest possible terms" the killings in the village near the protest city of Homs.
The statement said the deaths had been confirmed by U.N. observers and were the result of "attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shelling on a residential neighborhood."
The 15-nation council made a new demand for President Bashar Assad to withdraw heavy weapons from populated areas -- in line with the peace plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan -- and said that "those responsible for acts of violence must be held accountable."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Annan have called the Houla massacre a "flagrant violation of international law.”
Britain and France had proposed a U.N. statement making an even stronger condemnation of the Assad government. But Russia would not agree on the wording and demanded a special meeting before approving the statement.
The Syrian government has denied any responsibility for the deaths and Russia still does not accept that the Damascus government is to blame, its diplomats said.
"It still remains unclear what happened and what triggered what," Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Igor Pankin told reporters after the meeting.
"There are substantial grounds to believe that the majority of those who were killed were either slashed, cut by knives, or executed at point blank distance," Pankin said before the meeting.
"It is difficult to imagine that the Syrian government would not only shell... but also use point-black execution" against dozens of women and children, he said.
The government was "not at all" to blame for the Houla massacre, Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi insisted earlier. Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar Jaafari said accusations of government responsibility were part of a "tsunami of lies" against Damascus.
A U.N. source told Agence France Presse that an investigation had found that an artillery barrage of Houla on Friday was followed by an attack by militia fighters shortly after.
Major General Robert Mood, head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), gave details of the U.N. investigation by video conference. He said the opposition Free Syrian Army had given a death toll of 116 but that U.N. observers had seen 108 bodies.
Mood said there were signs of tank shelling, mortar fire and "physical abuse," and said the deaths were from "shrapnel" and gunfire at "point-blank" range, diplomats at the closed-door U.N. meeting said.
"The evidence is clear, the evidence is not murky, and there is a clear footprint of the government in this massacre," Germany's U.N. envoy Peter Wittig told reporters.
Special envoy Annan is to go to Damascus on Monday, the Syrian foreign ministry said. He has said he will renew condemnation of the Houla killings as he seeks to rescue his six-point peace plan.
Annan is to brief the Security Council on Wednesday on his efforts to end the 15-month old crisis.