EU condemns 'abhorrent' Syria massacre
by Daniel Mason
The "abhorrent" massacre in Syria of at least 109 people including 49 children has been condemned by European Union leaders, with one senior MEP insisting that the time for peace talks was over and the international community had to intervene to stop the killing.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, said she was "appalled" by the "brutal massacre" in Houla, adding: "I condemn in the strongest terms this heinous act perpetrated by the Syrian regime against its own civilian population, despite the agreed ceasefire and presence of United Nations observers." Ashton called on the Syrian regime to end the violence and implement UN special envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan.
Annan was due to visit Damascus today. Fighting has continued in Syria since the ceasefire he brokered was put in place on April12, despite the presence of 280 UN observers. It has been estimated that 10,000 people have been killed in the country since March 2011, when protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule began. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said the latest violence was a "flagrant violation of international law".
The "abhorrent" killings "may well constitute war crimes", said the president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. "The perpetrators must be brought to justice, and there will be no impunity for the regime," he said. Schulz demanded a "strong and united reaction" from the international community and urged Assad to step aside.
The leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, went further, insisting it was time to recognise that Annan's plan to bring the violence to an end had failed. "The time for peace talks is over, we need action now," he said. "There is only one way to stop this insanity. We need an international intervention in Syria right now. I appeal to the UN to intervene, beginning with the creation of two safe-zones: one in the north and one in the south. If the UN Security Council is going to be that irresponsible not to decide to intervene, it is the duty of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to do so." He warned that if the international community did not act history would judge it "complicit in these crimes against humanity".
Joseph Daul, chairman of the European People's Party, said: "The use of deadly violence is never acceptable but is even more incomprehensible and infuriating when small children are the victims. The perpetrators must be found and held accountable for their repulsive acts. All the information we have at present, however, points in the direction of the armed forces of the Assad dictatorship. If this is confirmed, the Houla massacre will mark the beginning of the end to his rule. The world can no longer accept this tyrant being in control of his country."
British foreign secretary William Hague, who immediately called for an emergency session of the security council, described the killings as "horrific" and "appalling". He travelled to Moscow for pre-arranged talks today with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Russia, along with China, blocked previous attempts by the UN to impose sanctions on the Assad regime. Hague also summoned the Syrian ambassador in London to the foreign office.
According to the BBC, Syria's ambassador to the UN described the condemnation of the Assad regime as a "tsunami of lies". But the UN's high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay said the killings were "indiscriminate" and might amount to crimes against humanity. "There should be an immediate and unfettered investigation of the incident by an independent and impartial international body," she said. "The Syrian government has a legal and moral responsibility to fully assist such an investigation."