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Bassem Tellawi/AP

Gilmore condemns Syrian massacre while Assad regime pleads innocence

The Tánaiste deplores the attacks in Houda which killed 90, while the Assad government denies responsibility.

Updated, 18:32

THE TÁNAISTE Eamon Gilmore has condemned the killing of over 90 Syrian civilians, including dozens of children, in Syria.

Gilmore described Friday’s slaughter in Houda as a “deplorable act and a clear crime against humanity”.

“Those responsible need to know that the international community will insist on full accountability for such atrocities,” Gilmore said.

The Tanaiste and foreign affairs minister added that the regime of president Bashar Assad should immediately honour its commitment to withdraw all troops and heavy weaponry from populated areas.

The United Nations’ security council is meeting this evening to discuss the killings, a move supported by Gilmore. It is thought that Russia is seeking to hold up the release of any critical statements, however.

Assad’s government has denied that its troops were behind the attacks, blaming the killings on “hundreds of heavily-armed gunmen” who also attacked soldiers in the area.

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. The United Nations says 32 children under the age of 10 were among the dead.

Though the UN and others have issued statements appearing to hold the Syrian regime responsible, all have stopped well short of suggesting intervention.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference in Damascus that Syria is being subjected to a “tsunami of lies” on Houla. ”We categorically deny the responsibility of government forces for the massacre,” he said.

UN evidence

UN observers, among more than 250 who were dispatched in recent weeks to try to salvage the ceasefire plan, found spent artillery and tank shells at the site yesterday — a finding which could point toward the government’s heavily-armed mechanised units.

“Those who use violence for their own agenda will create more instability, more unpredictability and may lead the country to civil war,” the observers’ chief, major general Robert Mood, warned in a statement.

Giving the regime’s version of the events, Makdissi said “hundreds of heavily-armed gunmen carrying machine guns, mortars and anti-tank missiles” launched the attack simultaneously from several locations, starting about 2pm and continuing for nine hours.

He said five army positions in the area came under attack at the same time, leaving three soldiers dead and 16 wounded.

“There were no Syrian tanks or artillery in the vicinity” of Houla, Makdissi added, claiming that gunmen used anti-tank missiles and “Syrian troops retaliated in defense of their positions.”

“Children, women and other innocent people were killed in their homes, and this is not what the Syrian army does,” Makdissi said. “The method of killing was brutal.”

Makdissi said a committee was set up to investigate the incident, with its findings due within three days.

He added that international envoy Kofi Annan would return to Syria on Monday, though a senior Arab League official said Syria had already denied permission for Annan’s deputy to travel to Damascus.

An anonymous official said Syria had made the decision not to allow former Palestinian foreign minister Nasser al-Kidwa to travel, because it wanted to deal only with the UN and not with the Arab League.

Annan and al-Kidwa are joint envoy from both the UN and the Arab League, though Annan is seen to represent the UN and al-Kidwa the Arab League.

Additional reporting by Albert Aji and Bassem Mroue, Associated Press

Read: Arab League to hold emergency meeting over Syrian massacre

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