The al-Houla massacre
"flagrant violation of international law"When 90 people, including at least 32 children under the age of 10, are summarily slaughtered, it is important to establish the facts of precisely what happened. When the weeping and wailing of mourners cry for vengeance over the bloodied bodies of children, there is a justifiable demand for action, by someone, somewhere. When you see the limp limbs of precious little ones with their jaws shot off and skulls split open, there is numbness, sorrow, disbelief, anger.
"indiscriminate and unforgivable"
-UN mission head Maj-Gen Robert Mood
-UK Foreign Secretary William Hague
"an act of pure, naked savagery"
-UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt
-French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
-Arab League head Nabil Elaraby
"the Government of Syria (must) immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres"
-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
"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"
-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
“We need to establish whether it was the Syrian authorities”
-Russian deputy ambassador to the UN Igor Pankin
Most of the world is united in blaming the Syrian regime for this massacre. Russia alone appears to be casting doubt on the involvement of Assad’s government troops. And President Bashar al-Assad himself blames the carnage on a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, observing that the escalation came ahead of an imminent meeting of the UN Security Council and the joint special envoy of the UN and the Arab League Kofi Annan to Syria.
The reality, of course, is that none of us can actually know who is responsible for this appalling crime, for we were not there. This is, to all intents and purposes, a civil war raging between competing religious factions: a Sunni Muslim-led insurgency against Syria’s ruling elite who belong to the minority Alawite sect (a branch of Shi’a Islam). Each side levels allegations of terrorism against the other: each accuses the other of atrocities and crimes against humanity. But still the government shelling continues. And still Assad reigns.
It is difficult to know what William Hague means when he says he wants a ‘strong response’ to the killings. The words themselves are weak: what ‘response’ can be made to the slaughter of babies and children? If the Foreign Secretary is waiting for unanimity at the UN Security Council, he can dream on. If he is expecting some authoritative condemnation from the ‘Islamic world’, he fails to grasp the reality that the Sunni Muslim Gulf powers want to see weapons provided to an insurgency led by their oppressed brothers and sisters against the heretical Alawites.
Bombs and bullets do not kill religious sects and cults. On the contrary, they make them more fortified and determined to achieve their religio-political ends. We stand and watch, appalled and horrified.
And eat our toast and drink our tea, wondering how Tony Blair will perform at Leveson, and desperately hoping that Baroness Warsi will face a police investigation.