AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
DAMASCUS: The Syrian government denied today its forces were responsible for killing 92 people, a third of them children, in the central city of Houla as Arab and Western states accused it of a massacre.
The government was “not at all” responsible for the massacre in the central town of Houla that sparked an international outcry, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi said. Blaming “terrorists” for the killings on Friday and Saturday, the spokesman said the government had opened an investigation.
Makdissi added that UN-Arab envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, was expected to arrive in Damascus today, although there was no confirmation from the peace envoy’s spokesman.
Arab and Western governments have expressed outrage at the “massacre” in Houla.
The rebel Free Syrian Army warned that unless the international community took concrete action it would no longer be bound by Annan’s UN-backed peace plan that was supposed to start with a ceasefire last month.
Makdissi called for a return to “dialogue and the negotiation table” after people took to the streets in dozens of towns and cities across Syria yesterday to denounce the Houla killings and call for the fall of the regime.
Amid mounting calls for world action to halt the bloodshed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined the chorus of international condemnation.
Meanwhile, violence raged today across the country, with rebel bastion Rastan, in central Homs, coming under a 14th consecutive day of artillery fire.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at least eight people were killed in violence across Syria today.
A report from Beirut, quoting Rami Abdel Rahman of the Observatory, said today more than 13,000 people have been killed in Syria since an anti-regime revolt broke out in March 2011. “In total, 13,004 people were killed,” Abdel Rahman said.
He further said that 9,183 of them were civilians. Another 3,072 were regime troops and 749 were army defectors.