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Syrian Government Suspected Of Massacre



The United Nations Security Council has condemned Syria for an attack in the central part of the country yesterday that left at least 90 people dead, dozens of them children. The council once again called on Syria's government to halt further violence against its civilians. Here's NPR's Kelly McEvers with more from Beirut.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: The council issued a statement after calling an emergency meeting to deal with what many are calling a massacre in the area of Houla. The Syrian government has denied it was involved in the attack, saying it was the work of terrorists. But still, the government says it will investigate and issue its findings in the next three days.

The violence started on Friday. After midday prayers, residents of Houla went to the streets to protest. They say the army began bombarding the protests with tank fire and artillery, and several people were killed. A group of rebels in the town who are known loosely as the Free Syrian Army fought back. They reportedly attacked Syrian army soldiers. The Syrian army says three soldiers were killed. But the violence didn't stop there.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: In this video posted online by Syrian activists, a woman says the shelling resumed around 2 a.m. Many people were killed when their houses collapsed on them. This video and others could not be independently verified. A second woman says the attacks got even worse. She says pro-government militias known as shabiha, which is derived from the word ghost, began going house to house.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: They knocked and asked who's in the house, she says. I said there are no men here. Then they started shooting. I lost seven grandchildren. Then they burned our houses.

The area of Houla is comprised of Sunni and Alawite villages. The Alawites support the Syrian regime, which is made up of Alawites, and the Sunnis oppose it. The villages are near the city of Homs where there has been some of the worst sectarian fighting since the Syrian uprising began last year.

Some activists suggested to NPR the house-to-house massacres of Sunni families was revenge for the killing of Alawites, but this could not be independently confirmed. Either way, what happened in Houla was the largest number of killings in one single incident since the Syrian uprising began.


MCEVERS: This video shows a long trench with what looks like endless rows of shrouded bodies: bodies of adults, bodies of children. Mourners protest against the Syrian government as they bury their dead. Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.