- (Photo: Reuters/Handout)
The U.N. Security Council on Sunday condemned the Syrian government over alleged use of artillery and tank shellings on a village in Homs province which killed more than 100 civilians, including dozens of women and children, over the weekend.
The council held an emergency meeting Sunday in the wake of the violence in the town of Houla in Homs on Friday and early Saturday, which killed 116 people and wounded more than 300. Among those killed were 49 children and 34 women, according to the U.N.
The U.N. body later came out with a statement condemning "in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women and children and the wounding of hundreds more in the village of [Houla], near Homs, in attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood."
Britain and France wanted the statement to be even stronger, but Russia, an ally of Syria, expressed disagreement. "It still remains unclear what happened and what triggered what," Russian deputy U.N. ambassador Igor Pankin was quoted as saying.
Russia and China have blocked council's earlier attempts to impose sanctions on Syria.
The council reiterated its demand in the non-binding statement that the forces of President Bashar al-Assad withdraw heavy weapons from Syrian towns.
"Such outrageous use of force against the civilian population constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian government under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2042 and 2043 to cease violence in all its forms, including the cessation of use of heavy weapons in population centers," CNN quoted Azerbaijan's Deputy Ambassador Tofig Musayev, as saying. Musayev presided over the meeting and spoke to reporters.
However, the Syrian government denied the allegation.
Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Syrian security forces were in their local bases Friday when they were attacked by "hundreds of heavily armed gunmen" firing mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-tank missiles, staring a nine-hour battle that killed three soldiers and wounded 16. "No Syrian tank or artillery entered this place where the massacres were committed," The Associated Press quoted him as saying. "The security forces did not leave their places because they were in a state of self-defense."
Makdissi accused the gunmen of a "terrorist massacre," and the media of spinning a "tsunami of lies" to justify foreign intervention in Syria.
German Ambassador Peter Wettig said there was "clear evidence" of the government's role in the killings. "The evidence is not murky, and there is a clear footprint of the government in this massacre," he was quoted as saying.
Special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan is scheduled a visit to Damascus Monday.
Clashes between government troops and anti-government protesters have continued despite the deployment of 280 U.N. observers monitoring a ceasefire, which seeks to end the increasingly violent uprising that began last year and was enforced April 10.