France and the U.K. are urging increased international support for opponents of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad after reports that government forces killed more than 90 civilians yesterday, many of them children.
The international community must stop the “martyrdom of the Syrian people,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said today in an emailed statement. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the killings “an appalling crime” and said the U.K. would be calling for an “urgent” meeting of the UN Security Council. The U.S. had no immediate comment.
More than 32 children under the age of 10 and more than 60 adults were killed in Houla, a town in Homs province, according to UN mission head General Robert Mood, who cited United Nations military and civilian observers. The observers confirmed the use of artillery and tank shells fired at a residential neighborhood in an attack that Mood called a “brutal tragedy.”
“This indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force is unacceptable and unforgiveable,” Mood said. “The killing of innocent children and civilians needs to stop.”
The killing hasn’t stopped since Assad and opposition forces accepted a peace plan by UN special envoy Kofi Annan two months ago. Assad’s forces have killed more than 9,000 people since March 2011 when protests began as part of the wave of uprisings in the Middle East, according to a UN estimate in late March.
While there has been “some reduction in the intensity of fighting” in areas of Syria where there are UN observers, “the overall level of violence in the country remains quite high” and the Syrian government isn’t implementing the UN peace plan, Ban said in a report yesterday.
Annan and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement condemning “this appalling and brutal crime” and demanding that Syria’s government “immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers.”
The UN now has 271 unarmed military observers for Syria and expects to have a full contingent of 300 there by the end of this month, according to Ban.
Ban cited fears expressed by opposition figures about regime reprisals for cooperating with UN monitors. There are continuing reports of “massive violations of human rights,” including torture and summary executions, he said.
Some Syrians in Homs said authorities threatened to kill them and their family members if they demonstrated or spoke with UN monitors, he said. In Deraa on May 9, a bomb detonated next to a house where five minutes earlier a UN patrol had met with representatives of the Free Syria Army, Ban said.
Separately, the Yemeni army killed 62 militants in fighting today in the southern city of Zanjibar, the country’s defense ministry said on its website. Three government soldiers were killed, according to the statement.
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