Former UN Secretary General and Syrian peace envoy Kofi Annan has held meetings with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, a day after a massacre in the opposition controlled city of Houla. UN observers said that 108 civilians were killed in Houla and that many were “summarily executed.” Over half of the victims were women and children, according to observers.Residents of Houla speaking to the BBC said that the murders were carried out by a militia connected to the government in Damascus. The Assad government for its part has placed blame on “terrorist” groups that they say are jeopardizing Syrian security and attempting to instigate a western bombing campaign.
While many analysts said the massacre was the end of the already fragile Annan ceasefire plan, the former UN chief argued that it was still possible to implement the framework. Annan did strike a more urgent tone in his meetings with the defiant Syrian leader, saying that the situation was at a “tipping point” and that it was up to Assad to halt the violence. “The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and division. Yet the killings continue and the abuses are still with us today,” he said.
World opinion in the aftermath of the killings has been furious, with Syrian diplomats being expelled from several world capitals including in the United States, France, the UK, Germany, Italy and Australia. Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson said that the US government held the leadership of the Syrian regime responsible for the killings. Newly elected French President Francois Hollande told reporters that “armed intervention” was an option for dealing with the crisis.
Russia, a steady ally of the Assad government placed the blame on both the government and rebels for the events in Houla. But, Russian officials were quick to add that the events should not be used as a reason for military intervention.
International monitors have found it difficult to count the number of civilian deaths since the beginning of the uprising against the Assad government in 2011, but even the most conservative estimates put the death toll in the thousands.