A total of 116 people were killed in a massacre in the Syrian town of Houla, the head of the UN mission in Syria, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, told the UN Security Council Sunday, diplomats said.
Another 300 people were injured in the incident, Mood told the Security Council. Syrian authorities have denied responsibility for the killings, which have sparked international outrage and prompted the council meeting.
Mood said the deaths were from “shrapnel” and gunfire at “point-blank” range, diplomats said.
On Saturday, Mood warned of “civil war” after the incident in Houla, which is located in central Homs province.
UN observers had initially counted 92 dead in Houla, 32 of them children.
Mood had on Saturday also called on the Syrian government to “cease the use of heavy weapons, and on all parties to cease violence in all its forms.”
Britain and France had proposed a statement condemning the massacre, but diplomats said Russia would not agree to the condemnation until a briefing was given by Mood.
Syria’s foreign ministry spokesperson Jihad Makdissi blamed “terrorists” for the killings on Friday and Saturday, adding that Damascus had opened an investigation, with results expected within three days.
“Not one Syrian tank went in” to Houla, he said.
In the wake of the Houla killings, exiled opposition head Burhan Ghalioun called for a “battle of liberation” against the regime until the UN takes action under Chapter VII allowing military intervention.
“I call on the Syrian people to lead a battle of liberation and dignity, relying on its own forces,” he told a news conference in Istanbul.
And the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) warned that unless the international community took concrete action it would no longer be bound by Annan’s UN-backed peace plan and his April 12 ceasefire which has been violated daily.
Despite the outcry, violence raged on, according to rights group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported at least 24 people killed across the country on Sunday, among them women and children.
Nine soldiers were killed, it said.
Protests against the Houla killings were held nationwide, including in the capital Damascus where one demonstrator was shot dead by security forces, the observatory said.
Angry residents voiced outrage over the killings as a UN team visited Houla on Saturday.
“Some of the children were less than eight months old. What did they do? Did they also carry rocket-propelled grenades?” one man shouted at a visibly embarrassed UN military observer.
The FSA said it could no longer commit to last month’s ceasefire and that unless the Security Council takes urgent steps to protect civilians, “Annan’s plan is going to go to hell”.
The observatory’s Rami Abdul Rahman said the international community had to “react” and complained that the UN observer mission deployed under Annan’s peace plan had arrived too late in Houla despite being warned of the violence.
His group says more than 13,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime erupted in March last year, nearly 1,500 of them since the UN-backed ceasefire was supposed to take effect.
Amid mounting calls for world action to halt the bloodshed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined the chorus of international condemnation of the carnage in Houla.
“This appalling and brutal crime, involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force, is a flagrant violation of international law,” a UN spokesperson quoted Ban and Annan as saying.
Condemnation also poured in from Britain, France and Germany, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saying he was making “immediate arrangements” for a meeting of the Friends of Syria group that backs the opposition.
Arab League foreign ministers are also to hold an emergency meeting, the bloc’s current president Kuwait said.