The reverberations have only just begun following the massacre in Houla. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon to discuss what the next steps would be for the international community, and to hear directly from the head of the U.N.'s observer mission in Syria.
In U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's official letter to the U.N., he said the monitors saw "artillery and tank shells, as well as fresh tank tracks." They said "many buildings" had been destroyed by heavy ammunition fire. Locals told them that local pro-government militia, known as "Shabiba" entered the city late at night. He also said the monitors are facing increased pressure in Syria, and even being blamed by some locals for an increase in violence in the country.
The Security Council released their official joint statement condemning the attacks, and urging both sides to cease the use of heavy weapons in populated areas. They attributed the heavy artillery shells and tank shells to the Syrian government, but didn't go so far as to announce any new restrictions against Syria. The statement said the Council, "reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria." They said they're going to continue to investigate the incident, and that the U.N. will hold the perpetrators accountable.
The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a letter the crimes in Houla could amount to crimes against humanity, which would mean if the Syrian government is responsible Bashar al-Assad could be brought against an international court. "The information I’ve received indicates indiscriminate and possibly deliberate targeting of civilians in El Houleh," Pillay said. "The UN has so far directly verified the deaths of at least 90 people, including 34 children under the age of 10, while other unconfirmed reports suggest the death toll may well be much higher. These atrocities may amount to crimes against humanity or other forms of international crime or violations of international law.”
Everyone was waiting to see how Russia's envoy to the Security Council would handle the increased international pressure to respond to the Houla massacre. Russia's Security Council envoy condemned the attack, but contended that there's likely a third force in Syria working to force an intervention. They argued that it was unlikely the Syrian government would use artillery and mortar fire to kill women and children, as well as shots from point black range, especially on the eve of Kofi Annan's arrival in Syria. Russia's envoy said they "expect progress" when Annan arrives in Damascus.
The Syrian envoy to the U.N. accused other Security Council diplomats of leaving to the meeting early to spread a "tsunami of lies" against the government. "Some members of the council came out just a few minutes after General Mood finished his briefing to mislead you, to tell you lies, about what happened," they said. They promised the Syrian government would hold whoever committed the crimes in Houla responsible, and also implied a third force could be responsible.
Reuters has a collection of statements from the international community reacting to the Houla massacre here.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.