Continued from page 1

A U.N. spokesman said most of the villagers slaughtered in Houla had been executed in their homes.

“It appears that most of the people who were killed were summarily executed,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “The fact that so many children seem to have been ruthlessly killed is truly appalling.”

Witnessing the horror

Witnesses blamed pro-government thugs known as “shabiha” for the onslaught.

“There have been at least two episodes where shabiha militia, according to the local people, entered homes in Houla and slaughtered people in their own houses,” Mr. Colville said in a telephone interview from Geneva.

U.N. investigators found that fewer than 20 of the victims had been killed by tank and artillery fire.

Most of the victims were in Taldaou, one of the villages in Houla, which is a collection of villages and towns.

An elderly survivor of the massacre told Human Rights Watch how she hid behind a door in her home after armed men barged in and started shouting at her family.

“After three minutes, I heard all my family members screaming and yelling. The children, all aged between 10 and 14, were crying,” said the woman, whose name was not revealed but is a member of the Abdel Razzak family.

She said she heard several gunshots as she crawled on the floor to see what was happening. After the gunmen left, she peered outside to find all of her family members had bullet wounds in their heads and bodies.

U.N. investigators do not have enough evidence to link the Houla massacre to the Assad government; however, the shabiha have been part of the regime’s crackdown on multiple occasions.

“The shabiha sometimes have acted in concert with the armed forces, and the armed forces were clearly in action with their artillery and tanks” in Houla, said Mr. Colville.

A call for action

Mr. Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, said the international community is looking at different ways to increase pressure on the Assad regime, including discussions in the European Union to tighten sanctions.

“We will continue to discuss this with Russia, since Russia has particular leverage over the regime and, therefore, a particular role in this crisis,” he said.

Story Continues →