Houla bodies awaiting burial (Photo from BBC.co.uk)
Rage at the Houla massacre by Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad is universal.
The UN has confirmed the deaths of at least 90 civilians in the Syrian town, including 32 children under the age of 10 (see yesterday’s post).
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the massacre was a “flagrant violation of international law.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the atrocity “appalling,” saying Assad’s “rule by murder and fear must come to an end.” She added in a statement, “Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague was heading to Moscow today to discuss Syria. “Will call on Russia to support rapid and unequivocal pressure on Assad regime and accountability for crimes,” he wrote in his Twitter micro-blog late on Saturday.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is making immediate arrangements for an immediate meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan called for an urgent Arab League meeting.
But Saudi daily al-Watan’s leader writer remarks, “While its appears the Assad regime wants to live all alone in Syria, the Damascus tyrant and his corrupt clique seem fully convinced all international efforts to save the Syrian people from their atrocities are not serious… The Great Powers’ intricate national interests and political calculations preclude all root solutions liable to end the bloodbath in Syria.”
Tariq Alhomayed, editor-in-chief of the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, says the Houla massacre “is not the regime’s first and won’t be its last.”
Like always, the regime chose an opportune occasion to commit the outrage “when the whole region was busy following the outcome and implications of the presidential elections in Egypt.”
Alhomayed says the problem is not with the lack of words condemning Assad’s rule, but in the lack of deeds. “Assad overstepped all taboos and red lines and committed all sorts of crimes against humanity. He did everything and the international community did little other than issue statements, knowing that their economic sanctions are being flouted by Iraq, Lebanon and Russia…
“What Syria needs today are not declarations, or extending and fiddling with the Annan mission, which is suspect anyway. What Syrians need is foreign military intervention to stop the killing machine that has been running far too long and is now mowing down children and their mothers.”
Jet versus bus
Separately, the fate and whereabouts of a group of Lebanese pilgrims who were abducted in Syria earlier this week (see May 23 post) remains shrouded in mystery.
Ahmad Ayyash, writing for the independent Beirut daily an-Nahar, notes, “`Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah did not go to Bintjbeil in southernmost Lebanon to mark the 12th anniversary of Liberation Day. He remained stuck underground in Beirut’s southern suburbs and addressed the Bintjbeil crowds by TV link. So, after all these years, the South returned to Lebanon without Nasrallah returning to the South.
“In the other setting, Saad Hariri’s diligent initiative to end the plight of the Lebanese abducted in Aleppo, and his dispatch of his private jet (to Turkey) in preparation to flying them home, earned the former prime minister praise from the audience in Hezbollah’s southern suburbs stronghold. That was unthinkable before the Lebanese bus travelers were nabbed in Aleppo.
“But like Nasrallah, Hariri is stuck somewhere outside Lebanon because of fear for his life. Proof was last month’s attempted assassination of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea (see earlier post).
“Whereas the Lebanese travelers’ incident caused a stir internally, it did not change Nasrallah or Hariri’s priorities.
“The former thanked Syrian President Assad after God for efforts to solve the case of the missing Lebanese travelers. The gratitude sounded shocking for the flimsy reasons he cited to laud Assad.
“The latter (Hariri) chose to place his initiative in its Lebanese context, thus putting his solidarity with the missing Lebanese travelers on a par with his commitment to the just cause of the Syrian revolution.”
With Syria’s inferno raging out of control, Ayyash continues, word came that the abducted Lebanese were safe, allaying fears of a repeat of the Ain el-Remmaneh bus massacre that sparked off the Lebanese civil war in April 1975. This is to say the Syrian rebels proved to be “more civilized than the Lebanese,” even though Hezbollah destroyed the reputation of Lebanon’s Shiites in the eyes of Syria’s rebels and the Aleppo bus passengers of the same sect.
“It is extremely insensitive to see Lebanese, chiefly Nasrallah, link their fate to the Syrian tyrant’s. When Nasrallah was expressing his gratitude to Assad, the latter’s shabiha (thugs) were committing one of the most atrocious massacres of modern times in Houla, near Homs. Weren’t Houla’s tiny victims worthy of a tear?”
Ayyash says while Hariri’s jet remains on standby to fly back the abducted Lebanese home, “Nasrallah seems to belong to the ‘Ain el-Remmaneh bus’ generation.”