Report: Shelling on Syria opposition kills 30 in Hama, days after Houla massacre
UN blames Syrian government for Houla killings but Damascus and Moscow suggest it was due to a rebel attack.
At least thirty people were killed on Sunday when Syrian army tanks shelled residential neighborhoods in the city of Hama that have been serving as bases for rebel attacks against loyalist forces, opposition activists said. The reports came less than 48 hours after a massacre in Houla that left at least 108 dead and drew UN condemnation.
The reports could not be verified independently.
Opposition sources said the shelling began in the morning on areas near the northern entrance of Hama, after a series of rebel attacks on army roadblocks in the city, and resumed in the evening on the southern al-Malaab district.
A video circulated by opposition sources purportedly showed a group of people, including two toddlers, lying wounded or dead on the floor of a mosque in the city, including several bodies with severed limbs.
Later Sunday, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the killing of at least 108 people, including many children, in the Syrian town of Houla, a sign of mounting outrage at the massacre that the government and rebels blamed on each other.
Images of bloodied and lifeless young bodies, laid carefully side by side after the onslaught on Friday, triggered shock around the world and underlined the failure of a six-week-old UN ceasefire plan to stop the violence.
Western and Arab states opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad put the blame for the deaths squarely on the government. But Damascus rejected the charge.
"The Security Council condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women and children and the wounding of hundreds more in the village of (Houla), near Homs, in attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood," the non-binding statement said.
"Such outrageous use of force against civilian population constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government under United Nations Security Council Resolutions," the statement said.
The United Nations believes that at least 108 people were killed in Houla, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said.
Russia, which along with China has vetoed two Security Council resolutions calling for tougher action against Damascus, said the "tragic" events in Syria deserve condemnation and called for a UN assessment of the violence there.
Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Alexander Pankin said the circumstances surrounding the massacre were "murky" and rejected the idea that the evidence clearly showed Damascus was guilty.
The head of the UN observer force, General Robert Mood, briefed the council by video link. Pankin said Mood "did not link directly the (army's) shelling with numbers of deaths."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent the council a letter that appeared to give ammunition to both sides.
He said the observers "viewed the bodies of the dead and confirmed from an examination of ordnance that artillery and tank shells were fired at a residential neighborhood." The rebels do not have artillery and tanks.
But Ban also said UN monitors observed shotgun wounds on some of the bodies, which could indicate close-range attacks by rebels, as Pankin suggested, or could be the result of follow-up attacks by the army after it stopped shelling.
"While the detailed circumstances are unknown, we can confirm that there has been artillery and mortar shelling," Ban said. "There have also been other forms of violence, including shootings at close range and severe physical abuse."
Ban is expected to brief the Security Council on the situation in Syria on Wednesday.
Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the slaughter in Houla. In a statement released by the prime minister's office, Netanyahu expressed "appall at the continuous slaughter of innocent civilians by Assad's forces." He added that "Iran and Hezbollah cannot be separated from Assad's massacre, and the world needs to take action against them as well."
In the past 16 months Netanyahu has said almost nothing about the situation in Syria, nor has he released any statements condemning the violence. When he did relate to the issue, it was in response to questions he was asked.
Although the ceasefire plan negotiated by international envoy Kofi Annan has failed to stop the violence, the United Nations is nearing full deployment of a 300-strong unarmed observer force meant to monitor a truce.
The plan calls for a truce, withdrawal of troops from cities and dialogue between government and opposition.
Syria calls the revolt a "terrorist" conspiracy run from abroad, a veiled reference to Sunni Muslim Gulf powers that want to see weapons provided to the insurgents.