UN chief warns Syria; regime again shells Houla

By Bassem Mroue

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 31 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

A Lebanese Red Cross volunteer, left, treats a Syrian injured man who was shot in his leg by the Syrian border guard when he was crossing a river from Syria into Lebanon, is seen on the ground, at the northern Lebanese-Syrian border town of Wadi Khaled, in Akkar, north Lebanon, Wednesday May 30, 2012.

Hussein Malla, Associated Press

Read more: 11-year-old played dead to survive Syria massacre after family murdered

BEIRUT — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syria on Thursday to stop its attacks, saying the U.N. observers monitoring the cease-fire were not there to watch the killing of innocent people. The warning came as activists reported that Syrian troops again shelled the country's central region of Houla where more than 100 people were massacred last week.

The latest shelling and sniper fire killed at least one person and made scores flee in fear of more government attacks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees activist groups said government troops unleashed heavy machine guns but also used mortars 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 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 last 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 U.N. 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 Thursday to nearby towns and villages "fearing a new massacre."

Speaking in Istanbul, Ban said that "the massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war — a civil war from which the country would never recover." He added that a united international community demands that the Syrian government act on its responsibilities to its people.

"We are there to record violations and to speak out so that the perpetrators of crimes may be held to account," Ban told a summit of the Alliance of Civilizations, a forum promoting understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds.

"The more the international community knows," Ban said, "the more likely it is that we can advance on our most important goal: to help find a political solution, a solution that safeguards the lives and interests of all the Syrian people."

"Let me state plainly, however: The U.N. did not deploy in Syria just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents," he said. "We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities."

Nearly 300 U.N. observers have been deployed around Syria to monitor a cease fire that went into effect on April 12, as part of a peace plan negotiated by international envoy Kofi Annan. Despite the cease fire, violence continued almost daily.

In the wake of last week's massacre, the United States, Western and Asian nations expelled Syrian diplomats in protest.

In Denmark, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that every day of slaughter in Syria is strengthening the case for tougher international action. However, she stressed that military intervention would need international support, including from Syrian ally Russia.

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