Western states are expelling Syrian diplomats amid accusations government-backed militias were behind the Houla massacre. The majority of the victims killed in the bloody attack were executed at close range, the UN’s human rights office said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human rights Rupert Colville said Tuesday that “under 20 of 108 killed in the attack can be attributed to artillery and tank fire,” Reuters cites him as saying.
"What is very clear is this was an absolutely abominable event that took place in Houla, and at least a substantial part of it was summary executions of civilians, women and children," Colville told reporters in Geneva. "At this point, it looks like entire families were shot in their houses," the agency reports.
Survivors told UN monitors at the scene that the score of door to door killings which left 49 children and 39 women dead, were carried out by pro-government Shabbiya militia forces.
Other eyewitnesses have pinned the blame on rebel fighters, claiming the attacks were retribution for those who refused to take up arms against government forces.
Damascus has denied any involvement in the massacre, blaming “armed terrorists” attempting to destabilize the peace process for the killings.
On Tuesday, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Australia all announced they would expel their Syrian ambassadors in response to the weekend’s massacre.
UN-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan spoke with President Bashar al-Assad “to convey the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria…in particular the recent events in Houla.”
He further said his six-point plan had to be fully implemented, and “this is not happening.”
Speaking with Annan by Phone on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated his call that both sides in the conflict should halt all violence.
Lavrov had previously warned that some countries are exploiting the tragedy in order to push a military solution to the Syrian conflict.
He also condemned calls by Syrian National Council chair Burhan Ghalion to carry on fighting until the Security Council “agrees on military intervention.” The Russian FM said such talk was a direct provocation for civil war and directly contradicted the spirit of Anna’s peace plan.
Following talks with his British counterpart on Monday, Lavrov said it was “clear both sides had a hand in the Houla incident.”
Iraqi mark on Houla massacre?
While the investigation into the Houla massacre is ongoing, former British intelligence officer Alastair Crooke told RT these attacks are not characteristic of the cultural region to which Syria belongs.
“This type of killing, beheadings, slitting of throats (of children too), and of this mutilation of bodies, has been a characteristic not of Levantine Islam, not of Syria, not of Lebanon, but what happened in the Anbar province of Iraq. And so it seems to point very much in the direction of groups that have been associated with the war in Iraq against the United States who have perhaps returned to Syria, or perhaps Iraqis who have come up from Anbar to take part in it,” he says.
Crooke believes the Al-Qaeda connection is misleading, as the massacre has its tactical and ideological roots in the Iraq war.
“I think the attack is more close to Musab al-Zarqawi [who declared an all out war on Shia in Iraq], than Al-Qaeda as we know it, in the sense that Zarqawi and Iraq gave birth to this very strong, bigoted, anti-Shia, anti-Iranian rhetoric. Much of that came into Syria when fighters from Anbar returned to their homes around Homs and Hama.
“So yes, we’re talking about Al-Qaeda like groups that are at the very end of the spectrum of the opposition. They may be a minority in terms of the numbers of the overall opposition, but they are defining the war,” Crooke maintains.