BEIRUT -- The United Nations Security Council was meeting in New York on Sunday in an effort to craft a statement condemning the weekend killings that left more than 100 people, including scores of children, dead in a Syrian town.
Amateur footage of the bloodied corpses of the children have prompted international condemnation of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Several nations, including Britain and France, reportedly were pushing for a statement that would condemn the Syrian government as causing the deaths during a Friday barrage of artillery and tank shells targeting the town of Houla, an opposition stronghold northwest of the restive city of Homs.
But Russia, a longtime ally of Assad's government, was said to have misgivings about the statement and demanded an update from U.N. officials in Syria. Russian officials have noted that some of the victims in Houla reportedly died of small-arms fire and knife wounds, not from government shelling.
Earlier in the day Syrian officials had denied responsibility for a weekend massacre, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying that Syria “categorically denies the government forces’ responsibility for the massacre.” Speaking to reporters in Damascus, spokesman Jihad Makdissi also denounced the “tsunami of lies” that he said wrongly pointed the finger at Syrian forces.
The spokesman blamed the killings on “terrorists,” Syrian officials' usual depiction of anti-government rebels, and said authorities had opened an inquiry into the deaths.
The massacre has raised new questions about the effectiveness of the peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general who now serves as a special envoy on Syria for the world body and the Arab League. More than 250 U.N. observers are in Syria, but a U.N. contingent arrived in Houla only on Saturday, after the killing was done.
Meanwhile, the U.N. raised the death toll in the killings to 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, the Associated Press reported.
The slayings were the worst act of violence in Syria since the U.N.-backed peace plan and cease-fire went into effect more than six weeks ago. Fighting has continued despite the truce, though there have been several lulls. Other parts of the peace plan, including negotiations between the two sides, have yet to take begin.
— Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: This image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday purports to show shrouded bodies following an attack on the Syrian town of Houla. Associated Press could not independently verify the authenticity of the image. Credit: Associated Press.