BEIRUT - Syrian forces launched a fresh assault on Wednesday on the site of last week’s Houla massacre, forcing villagers to flee heavy shelling in fear of more carnage, a watchdog and the opposition said.
Machinegun fire was followed in the afternoon by shelling that targeted the village of Taldu, near Houla in central Syria, where more than 100 people were killed on Friday and Saturday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“People are fleeing Taldu to other parts of Houla,” the Britain-based Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “They are very afraid.”
Smoke was seen billowing above both Taldu village and the town of Houla as residents escaped to other towns in the region “for fear of a new massacre,” the watchdog reported.
The Syrian opposition called for UN observers to rush to the area to protect residents.
“The murderous regime is currently carrying out bombing of Houla... using tanks and shells,” said the Syrian National Council, the main opposition coalition.
“The Council calls on UN observers to travel quickly to Houla and put pressure on the regime to stop the bombing and protect civilians who are still there,” a statement said.
“People are calling in distress following the regime’s brutal attack on their community, especially after the army’s withdrawal of roadblocks, which usually signals the beginning of attacks,” it added.
At least 108 people were killed in Taldu in the two-day offensive that began with heavy shelling, according to United Nations military observers who visited the site.
Among them were 49 children and 34 women. Some were blown to bits by artillery and tank fire but most were summarily executed, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has said there was a “strong suspicion that the shabiha were involved in this tragedy in Houla,” referring to a militia loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The UN Security Council – including Assad’s veto-wielding allies China and Russia – on Saturday condemned the Syrian government for using artillery in the Houla massacre.
Western powers, including Britain, France and the United States, have since reacted by expelling Syrian senior diplomats.
But the response has failed to stop nearly 15 months of bloodshed in Syria, with the violence claiming another 61 lives nationwide on Wednesday, according to the Observatory.