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Syria 'massacre' raises pressure for international response

Syrian artillery attack that apparently killed more than 90 people, including many children, brought French condemnation, while the UK said it would call for urgent UN Security Council meeting.

By Joseph LoganReuters / May 26, 2012



Beirut, Lebanon

A Syrian artillery barrage killed more than 90 people, including dozens of children, in the worst violence since the start of a UN peace plan to staunch the flow of blood from Syria's uprising, activists said on Saturday.

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The bodies of children were shown in footage posted to YouTube purporting to show the victims of the shelling in the central town of Houla on Friday. The sound of wailing filled the room.

The reports of the carnage, which could not be confirmed independently, underlined how far Syria is from any negotiated path out of the 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned the violence as a "massacre," and said he wanted to arrange a meeting in Paris of the Friends of Syria, a group that brings together Western and Arab countries keen to remove Mr. Assad.

Syrian state television aired some of the footage disseminated by activists, calling the bodies victims of a massacre committed by "terrorist" gangs.

A British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said residents of Houla were fleeing in fear of more shelling.

It said one person was killed in the northern town of Saraqeb when security forces opened fire on a protest against the killing. Activists distributed footage appearing to show similar protests in Aleppo, the largest city in the north.

Killing families

A member of the fragmented exile group that says it speaks for Syria's political opposition said Assad's forces had killed "entire families" in Houla in addition to the shelling.

"The Syrian National Council (SNC) urges the UN Security Council to call for an emergency meeting ... and to determine the responsibility of the United Nations in the face of such mass killings," SNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani said.

Opposition activists said Syrian forces had opened fire with artillery on Friday after skirmishing with insurgents in Houla, a cluster of villages north of the city of Homs, itself battered by shelling.

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