Sunday, May 27, 2012

Syrian government denies role in massacre of 90, including children

BEIRUT — Syrian authorities on Sunday denied responsibility for a weekend massacre in the central town of Houla that the United Nations said left about 90 people dead, more than a third of them children.

The killings — documented in grisly Internet images of battered children’s corpses and rows of fresh graves — have drawn international condemnation and raised new doubts about the peace plan developed by Kofi Annan, special envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, who is due to visit Syria this week.

The Syrian government “categorically denies the government forces’ responsibility for the massacre,” Jihad Makdissi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Makdissi also denounced the “tsunami of lies” that he said wrongly pointed the finger at Syrian forces.

The spokesman blamed the killings on “terrorists,” Syrian officials' usual depiction of anti-government rebels, and said authorities had opened an inquiry into the deaths.

The spokesman's version of the events — that the conflict began Friday afternoon when armed men attacked security forces in Houla — is at odds with opposition accounts of a military onslaught against helpless civilians using tanks and artillery, weapons largely limited to the arsenal of the Syrian military.

A statement from the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency noted the “suspicious coincidence” between the attacks and the upcoming visit by Annan. Read More