The Associated Press
Published Saturday, May. 26, 2012 8:39PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, May. 27, 2012 5:52PM EDT
The UN Security Council is condemning Syrian government forces for shelling Houla town of Houla that left at least 116 people dead.
Friday’s assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city of Homs, was one of the bloodiest single events in Syria’s 15-month-old uprising. Gen. Mood, speaking at the meeting, said at least 116 people were killed at 300 injured in the massacre, a diplomat said.
The Syrian government denied its troops were behind an attack on the string of villages, blaming the killings on “hundreds of heavily-armed gunmen” who also attacked soldiers in the area.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters in Damascus at a news conference that Syria is being subjected to a “tsunami of lies” on Houla. “We categorically deny the responsibility of government forces for the massacre,” Mr. Makdissi said.
He added a committee was set up to investigate the incident and results should be out within three days.
Also Sunday, Syrian forces shot dead two men at a protest in Damascus against the killings in Houla, opposition activists said.
Footage broadcast by activists in the Damascus suburb of Yalda showed a crowd of hundreds at one of the men’s funerals shouting “the people want the downfall of the regime”. Both the men's funerals turned into demonstrations.
Meanwhile, a senior Arab League official says Syria has denied permission for a deputy of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to travel to Damascus.
The official says Syria made clear that the decision against former Palestinian foreign minister Nasser al-Kidwa is not personal, but rather because it did not want to deal with the Arab League. Syria views the Arab League as a tool of the West.
The official spoke Sunday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Mr. Annan is due in Damascus on Monday.
This latest wave of violence has sparked outrage from international leaders, and has renewed concerns about the relevance of a month-old international peace plan that has not stopped almost daily violence.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister called the violence “very disconcerting because of its depravity.”
John Baird said the international community needs to redouble its efforts to get Syria to agree to an peace plan mapped out a month ago, or explore other diplomatic solutions.
He added that the number of children killed in Houla is “especially reflective of the regime’s utter contempt for humanity and decency.”
The UN also denounced the attacks in a statement that appeared to hold President Bashar al-Assad’s regime responsible.
“This appalling and brutal crime involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and violence in all its forms,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and international envoy Mr. Annan.
“Those responsible for perpetrating this crime must be held to account.”
The White House also responded with outrage. The U.S. is “horrified” by the Houla attacks, National Security Council spokeswoman Erin Pelton said in a statement. “These acts serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms,” demanding that “those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account.”
“The United States will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end,” she said in statement.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also weighed in on the violence, saying in a statement that the “murderous regime” is pushing Syria “further into horror and threatens regional stability.”
The bloodshed is yet another blow to the international peace plan brokered by Mr. Annan and cast a pall over his coming visit to check on the plan’s progress. The cease-fire between forces loyal to the regime of Mr. al-Assad and rebels seeking to topple it was supposed to start on April 12 but has never really taken hold, with new killings every day.
Mr. Baird said Canada is calling on all parties to immediately respect a ceasefire, co-operate with UN observers and support the efforts of Mr. Annan to resolve the crisis with the international peace plan.
He continued that Canada will continue to work with its partners to isolate Mr. Assad’s regime and support the Syrian people’s hopes for a better future.
The UN put the death toll weeks ago at more than 9,000. Hundreds have been killed since.
With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters