45 women, children killed in Homs massacre, Syrian opposition says
At least 45 women and children have been stabbed and burned to death in the Syrian city of Homs, opposition activists said Monday.
The massacre took place late Sunday after peace talks between a U.N. special envoy and the Syrian regime failed to result in a cease-fire, activists said.
The killing occurred in the Karm al Zaytoun neighborhood, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition network. The Adawiya neighborhood of Homs was also involved, according to the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights.
Children were stabbed to death in front of their mothers, and women and girls were sexually assaulted and then shot, the human rights network said.
Hadi Abdallah, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian Revolution General Council, said the attacks occurred after “Syrian forces and thugs” stormed homes.
Life and death under Syria’s military onslaught
The LCC called the killings a “massacre orchestrated by the regime” of President Bashar al-Assad.
Another 108 people were killed Sunday nationwide, activists said.
The death toll for Monday was 14 by afternoon, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said. The deaths included five members of the rebel Free Syrian Army in Damascus; three people in Daraa, including two 15-year-old boys; three people in Idlib; one in Aleppo; and two in Raqqa, who were shot when security forces stormed their houses, the network said.
Activists say no optimism for peace
Tuesday will be an official day of mourning across Syria, the LCC said.
“Tomorrow stores should remain closed; work, universities, and schools should not be attended; and streets should be blocked,” the group said in a statement. “We urge everyone to participate, even if only symbolically, by wearing black ribbons, raising black flags, or wearing black.”
After sunset Sunday, a live video feed online from opposition activists showed bodies from the Homs massacre.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights described a scene of brutality, saying the men were separated from the women and children and “systematically tortured” for hours. Some were sprayed with gasoline and set afire, while others were shot, the network said.
Activists recovered 31 bodies, the human rights network said. Others were burned, and still others were taken to unknown locations by security forces.
Syrian state-run media said the bodies shown were killed by “armed terrorist groups,” which the government blames for the violence in the nearly year-long uprising.
“The terrorist armed groups have kidnapped scores of civilians in the city of Homs, central Syria, killed and mutilated their corpses and filmed them to be shown by media outlets,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
On Monday morning, state-run TV aired a montage of telephone calls reportedly from Homs. The anchor listened to callers denouncing the killings and blaming the Karm al Zaytoun massacre on what they called anti-government armed gangs.
One caller, identified as Fouad Suleiman, said “the armed gangs” killed his cousin.
“They kidnapped him few months ago, asked for a 2 million Syrian pounds ($34,900) ransom, and then they killed him because we couldn’t pay,” the caller said. “They killed him because he refused to join the demos, because he was pro-government.”
The state-run news agency reported that 15 army and law enforcement “martyrs” targeted by armed terrorist groups were buried Monday.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports of casualties or attacks in Syria because the government has severely restricted the access of international journalists.
But the majority of reports from inside Syria indicate the regime is slaughtering civilians to wipe out dissidents seeking al-Assad’s ouster. The al-Assad family has ruled Syria for more than four decades.
The latest reports of carnage came after Kofi Annan, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, left the country Sunday following two days of talks with al-Assad.
On Saturday, Annan proposed a cease-fire, the release of detainees and unfettered access to agencies such as the Red Cross to deliver aid, a U.N. statement said.
“It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be difficult, but we have to have hope,” Annan said after Sunday’s meeting with al-Assad.
Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, also proposed a start to a political dialogue that would “address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the people.”
It was unclear whether al-Assad offered any assurances he would agree to the proposals laid out by Annan. When asked whether he received promises of a cease-fire or the acceptance of humanitarian assistance, Annan responded, “(Those are) some issues we’re discussing with the president.”
Witness to killing fields
The U.N.’s Human Rights Council was to meet Monday in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss an International Commission of Inquiry report issued last month. The report said Syrian government officials were responsible for “crimes against humanity” committed by security forces against opposition members.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, the Security Council addressed Syria in a session about the Arab Spring requested by Britain, which holds the Security Council presidency this month.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that, “even as Assad was receiving Annan, the Syrian army was conducting a fresh assault on Idlib and continuing aggression on Hama, Homs and Rastan.” She called on “all nations, even those who have previously blocked our efforts,” to speak with one voice in calling for the killings of civilians to end and a transition to democracy to begin.
Clinton also had a private meeting scheduled with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Russia and China last month vetoed a Security Council resolution that many other countries said could have helped end the bloodshed in Syria.
In his remarks to the council, Lavrov also called for “an end to any violence,” adding, “We shouldn’t talk about who started it, but rather discuss realistic and feasible approaches which would allow us to achieve a cease-fire as a priority.”
The opposition LCC on Monday called on the Syrian National Council — which has been representing the opposition in meetings abroad — “to immediately address the U.N. Security Council and demand that all measures to stop the massacres be taken, rather than merely issuing statements.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, called for the United Nations to form an independent judicial commission “to start an urgent investigation in order to prosecute the perpetrators of these massacres and bring them to justice.”
In a phone call with a Binnish town elder, a major general in al-Assad’s military demanded the people of Binnish hand over weapons used by soldiers who had defected and the rebel Free Syrian Army within 24 hours or the town will be bombed and stormed early Monday, according to the Binnish Coordination Committee, part of the LCC.
The meetings Saturday and Sunday between al-Assad and Annan were the first time during the crisis that the Syrian leader met with such a high-level diplomat. But the Syrian president rejected the possibility of negotiating with the opposition anytime soon.
The Syrian Arab News Agency said al-Assad told Annan he was ready to find a solution — but that such an effort would first require a look at reality on the ground and not rely on what “is promoted by some regional and international countries to distort the facts and give a picture contrary to what Syria is undergoing.”
He also reiterated that “political dialogue or action cannot take place or succeed if there are terrorist armed gangs on the ground that are working on spreading chaos and target the stability of the homeland,” the state-run news agency said.
Both Annan and opposition members agreed that plans for a resolution cannot be implemented as long as the bloodshed continues.
“It is too early to apply a plan to resolve the crisis,” said Abdel Aziz al-Khair, a member of the opposition National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change. “The situation on the ground … is catastrophic.”
The United Nations says more than 7,500 have died in the past year, and at least one activist group says more than 9,000 people have been killed.
American Marie Colvin, one of several journalists killed in Homs, will be buried Monday on Long Island, New York. She and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed February 22 in a shelling attack on a makeshift media center in the neighborhood of Baba Amr.