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Among the dead: 49 children and 34 women. The worldwide expressions of outrage at the massacre may be the impetus for further UN sanctions, as well as increasing the likelihood that Western nations will begin supplying the Syrian rebels with more sophisticated and deadly armaments. This, along with the increased effectiveness of the Free Syrian Army, could lead to a full scale civil war that could easily spread to neighboring Lebanon and other countries, or devolve into a religious war, which would dramatically worsen the humanitarian crisis now afflicting much of the country.
Eyewitness accounts from several sources indicate that the killing spree was conducted by the feared Alawite militia fanatically loyal to President Bashar Assad, the shabbiha. Filtering in from Alawite villages near Houla, the shabbiha attacks were conducted door to door, and were apparently planned and systematically carried out. To maximize the terror, children as young as five years old were either shot or hacked to death in the presence of their parents.
On Sunday, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the attack — a potential turning point for the international community as both Russia and China voted along with the rest of the Council to condemn the Syrian government. The significance of this vote cannot be lost on Damascus. Russia and China have blocked every single previous attempt by the UN to condemn or sanction the Assad regime for its brutal crackdown. It is clear that the massacre has caused the two permanent members of the Security Council to begin a reassessment of their unflinching support for Assad in the face of more than 9,000 dead civilians since the revolt began.
And despite the extreme reluctance of Western nations — including the United States — to speak of military intervention, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Fox News on Monday that more atrocities like Houla could trigger “intervention” by the military.
In a statement, French President Francois Hollande said, “The murderous folly of the Damascus regime represents a threat for regional security and its leaders will have to answer for their acts.” But Russia, while voting with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn Assad’s government for the massacre, believes that “both sides” are responsible for the massacre. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “Both sides have obviously had a hand in the deaths of innocent people, including several dozen women and children. This area is controlled by the rebels, but it is also surrounded by the government troops.”
Accounts from several eyewitnesses belie that statement. The attack began after Friday afternoon prayers in Taldou, a village outside of Houla, when several thousand protestors were fired upon by Assad’s troops. Activists on the ground say that 5 demonstrators were killed by the indiscriminate fire. In response to that attack, elements of the Free Syrian Army hit army checkpoints in Taldou. Assad’s forces responded by firing tank shells and mortars directly into a Sunni Muslim area of the town. Activists say about 15 civilians died in the barrage.
But the bloodletting began in earnest with the arrival of several dozen shabbiha militia. The militia has made a name for itself by conducting violent sweeps through suspected rebel areas, arresting most of the male population while looting houses and torturing prisoners. They are also known to stand behind army units and kill any soldier who refuses to fire at unarmed civilians.
This time, they came for blood.
An 11-year-old boy describes the attack on his family:
“My mum yelled at them,” said the boy. “She asked: ‘What do you want from my husband and son?’ A bald man with a beard shot her with a machine gun from the neck down. Then they killed my sister, Rasha, with the same gun. She was five years old. Then they shot my brother Nader in the head and in the back. I saw his soul leave his body in front of me.
After looting the house of “three televisions and a computer,” the militiamen caught up with the young man’s father, brother and uncle. They shot them as they were fleeing out of the door of the house. The boy escaped by smearing his brothers blood on his face and playing dead until the shabbiha left.
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