DAMASCUS: The weekend massacre of 108 people in the central Syrian town of Houla was carried out by “armed groups” and not by government forces as has been widely claimed, a senior official said on Thursday.
“It appears that all the victims came from peaceful families who refused to rise up against the government or take up arms, but had rows with armed groups,” said General Kassem Jamal Sleiman, chief of the official inquest into the incident.
There are five army posts in Houla, and the aim of the operation was to “eliminate the presence of the government totally and turn it into a region out of government control,” Sleiman told a press conference in Damascus.
UN monitors said that some of the victims in Houla, which included 49 children and 34 women, had been killed by shelling, but that most had been summarily executed.
“Killing children does not meet any goal of the government but those of the armed groups,” the general said. He insisted that regular troops did not enter the area before or after attack.
“During clashes between troops and armed terrorist groups, the regular troops did not leave their positions but defended themselves, from their positions.”
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has said there was a “strong suspicion that the shabiha were involved in this tragedy in Houla,” referring to a militia loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The shabiha is a pro-government militia.