Syria: Troops now shell Houla, site of massacre
Beirut: Syrian forces shelled Houla early Thursday, days after the massacre of more than 100 people, including children, stunned the international community.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees activist groups, at least one person was killed in the latest violence and scores fled in fear of more government attacks.
The activist groups further revealed that government troops unleashed heavy machine guns but also used mortars on Thursday in Houla, a collection of poor farming villages in the central Homs province. Both groups said a young man was killed by sniper fire.
Survivors of the Houla massacre have blamed pro-regime gunmen for at least some of carnage that began on Friday and left 108 people dead, many of them children and women. The Syrian government denied its troops were behind the killings and blamed "armed terrorists”.
Activists from Houla said government forces on Friday first shelled the area after large demonstrations against the regime earlier in the day. That evening, they said, pro-regime fighters known as shabiha stormed the villages, gunning down men in the streets and stabbing women and children in their homes.
The Houla massacre was one of the deadliest incidents since the uprising against President Bashar Assad`s regime started in March last year. The UN said several weeks ago that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the past 15 months while activists put the number at about 13,000.
The Observatory reported that Houla residents were fleeing on Thursday to nearby towns and villages "fearing a new massacre”.
In the wake of last week`s massacre, the United States, Western and Asian nations expelled Syrian diplomats in protest.
In Istanbul, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called on Syria to stop its attacks, saying UN observers monitoring the ceasefire were not there to watch the killings of innocent people.
Ban was speaking about the nearly 300 UN observers who were deployed around Syria to monitor a ceasefire that went into effect on April 12, as part of an international peace plan negotiated by international envoy Kofi Annan. Despite the cease fire violence continued almost daily.
Meanwhile, a group of Army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army warned the Syrian government on Thursday that if it does not abide by Annan`s plan by ceasing fire and pulling out troops from residential areas by Friday noon, the group will defend the people.
"After that, the Free Syrian Army will not abide by the Annan plan ... and will defend the civilians," said Colonel Qassim Salaheddine in a statement posted on YouTube. Salaheddine identified himself as the FSA commander in Homs province.
Although the FSA claims that it has so far been abiding by Annan`s plan, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said gunmen have violated the ceasefire more than 3,500 times. There have been clashes over the past weeks between troops and army defectors in different areas around Syria.
Also on Thursday, Syria`s state-run TV said that 500 people who had got involved in recent events in Syria have been released from detention. The report gave no further details.
(With Agency inputs)
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