UN envoy Kofi Annan 'horrified' by Syria massacre.
Annan arrived in Damascus yesterday for talks with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in the wake of the bloodshed on Friday night in Houla, a collection of villages in the central province of Homs.
"I am personally shocked and horrified by the tragic incident in Houla, which took so many innocent lives, children, women and men," Annan said as he arrived in the Syrian capital.
He called on all sides of the conflict to end the bloodshed, saying "this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun".
The mass killings in Houla - one of the deadliest single events in the 15-month-old uprising - prompted sweeping international criticism of the Syrian regime, although differences emerged from world powers over whether his forces were exclusively to blame. Syria's strong ally, Russia, said both the government and the rebels were to blame.
"Both sides have obviously had a hand in the deaths of innocent people, including several dozen women and children," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday. "This area is controlled by the rebels, but it is also surrounded by the governmental troops."
Syria has strongly denied allegations that its forces carried out the killings, but the UN Security Council, after an emergency session, condemned government forces for shelling residential areas.
The brutality of the killings became clear in amateur videos posted online that showed scores of bodies, many of them young children, in neat rows and covered with blood and deep wounds.
The international rights group Human Rights Watch urged a swift investigation.
"There's no way a Syrian military commission can credibly investigate this horrendous crime when so much evidence suggests pro-government forces were responsible," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director for the US-based group.
"Annan should insist that Syria grant access to the UN commission of inquiry to investigate this and other grave crimes."
The United Nations estimates that 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, but hundreds more have been killed since the UN provided that figure.
Yesterday Syrian troops also shelled several neighbourhoods in Hama, killing at least 24 people, UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local activist groups said.
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