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Following Houla Massacre, 13 More Bodies Found in Syria

May 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: A new atrocity surfaced in Syria today, the bodies of 13 people found in an eastern province. Their hands had been tied and some had been shot in the head execution-style.

The discovery followed Friday’s massacre in Houla, where 108 people were killed after anti-government protests.

Alex Thomson of Independent Television News is the first outside correspondent to get into Houla.

He filed this report.

ALEX THOMSON: The U.N. warned us: You will pass the last Syrian army checkpoint; then it’s no-man’s land. Space out the vehicles as we go across, and, if shooting starts, do a U-turn and get the hell out. You’re on your own.

It is a chilling mile-long straight drive through the broken, empty buildings. Watch for the dead horse rotting in the street on the right. Pass that, and the abandoned personnel carrier of the Syrian army, and you’re into rebel-held Houla.

“We will cut Assad’s throat,” they chant. They want to scream at us, they want to shout, they want to chant. They want to show us fragments of shells. I have scarcely ever seen people so desperate to tell their story, U.N. observers simply embraced before they can observe anything at all.

The chanting, the relief, the anger is palpable in this place. They have seen very few people from the outside. They have certainly never seen a journalist here since the horrors overtook this town back on Friday.

From that moment, we were taken away, swept up, lead from house to house, where everyone has a story to tell. And when it comes to the men who carried out the massacre here on Friday, it is the same one.

This man, who didn’t wish to give his name, speaks for everyone here, it seems.

Hang on. This is important. You know where these militia came from?

MAN: Yes. Yes.

ALEX THOMSON: Which villages did the militia come from? Tell me that.

MAN: And from — Alawites, the Alawites’ guns.

ALEX THOMSON: So you think these are Alawites, Shabiha, from nearby here?

MAN: Yes, yes, yes, yes, 100 percent.

ALEX THOMSON: How do you know that these men are Shia Shabiha from nearby? How do you know that?

MAN: Yes. They were wearing black clothes. . .

ALEX THOMSON: Black clothes.

MAN: . . . And were writing on their foreheads “La baka ali.”

ALEX THOMSON: “La baka ali” is a Shia slogan in this region.

Houla is on the plain, overwhelmingly Sunni. The killers, they say, came down from the hills to the west, where the villagers are Shia and Alawite. To the southwest, this is Kabul, named again and again by people here as a village where the killers had come from — so, too, Houla to the northwest, again named by different people, at different times, in different locations as being a place where the killers live.

Time and again, they showed us their videos of the massacre aftermath. We can’t show pictures of children virtually decapitated by knives, women with their faces shot away, tiny mutilated bodies of toddlers, survivors scarred by all this constantly brought to our attention, like 3-year-old Sadara, who was wounded by shrapnel, but her mother is dead.

For now, though, time was up for the Red Crescent and the U.N. We had to move out, south, back across no-man’s land and away from this stricken place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The killings in Houla prompted a starkly worded report to the U.N. Security Council today. An aide to special envoy Kofi Annan said there are serious doubts that the Syrian government has any intention of adhering to a peace plan.

Afterward, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice warned of what could lie ahead.

SUSAN RICE, United States ambassador to the United Nations: The violence escalates. The conflict spreads and intensifies. It reaches a higher degree of severity. It involves countries in the region. It takes on increasingly sectarian forms. And we have a major crisis, not only in Syria, but in the region.

JEFFREY BROWN: Russia warned today that Western moves to expel Syrian diplomats will only make things worse. The Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, said calls for even tougher action against Syria will make a — quote — “shambles of the Middle East.”

He spoke to ITN correspondent Matt Frei.

VITALY CHURKIN, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations: If things go really bad in Syria and if some hotheads have it their way, you know, the entire region — you have a look, and then you will see what Russia — why Russia is so active in trying to see a political solution. This is our main interest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Syrian government insisted today it won’t be intimidated by outside pressure.

But Syrian rebels warned President Assad to comply with the U.N. peace plan within 48 hours.