U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she doesn’t quite buy the claim that Moscow is neutral in the Syrian conflict, saying in Oslo that Russia is viewed in the United Nations, in Damascus and around the world “as supporting the continuity of the Assad regime.”
Activists say as many as 13,000 people have died in Assad’s crackdown against the anti-government uprising, which began in March 2011 amid the Arab Spring. One year after the revolt began, the U.N. put the toll at 9,000, but many hundreds more have died since.
Despite the relentless violence, the Houla massacre stands out for its sheer brutality. Many of the dead were women and children who were gunned down in their homes.Since then, two other mass killings were reported, both on Thursday. Thirteen bound corpses, many apparently shot execution-style, were found in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, near the Iraqi border. Gunmen also killed 11 people on their way to work at a state-owned fertilizer factory in the central province of Homs, activists said.
There is no clear idea of who carried out the killings, although both sides traded blame.
U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the U.N. has sent two teams to the area of the reported killings. “We cannot yet confirm the reports but teams are right now working on this,” del Buey said in New York.
The violence has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months, and it is difficult to assign blame for much of the bloodshed as the country spirals toward civil war. The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts from either side.
“I know we are all impatient, we are all frustrated by the violence, by the killings,” Annan told reporters in Beirut. “We really want to see things move much faster.”
Annan is trying to salvage a peace plan that he initiated six weeks ago, which calls for a cease-fire by both sides. The plan has never really taken hold, but world leaders have pinned their hopes on it, since the U.S. and others are unwilling to get deeply involved in another Arab nation in turmoil.
On Friday, activists said Syrian security forces fired on thousands of protesters in different parts of the country as crowds poured into the streets to mark the Houla massacre.
An amateur video said to be taken in the posh Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh showed scores of people inside a mosque chanting “Death is better than humiliation!” and accusing the Syrian army of being traitors.
Protesters erupted in the capital Damascus, the southern province of Daraa, the northern regions of Idlib and Aleppo, Latakia on the coast and Hama and Homs in central Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the shooting at protesters occurred in Daraa, the suburbs of Damascus, and Aleppo, the country’s largest city.
Several people were reported killed, but there was no way to confirm the toll.