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Fri June 1, 2012
The Same Scene Over And Over: A Syrian Describes Houla Massacre
The Houla massacre left more than 100 Syrians dead. Some of them were women. Most of them were children.
The Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied responsibility. But the United Nations has pinned the blame mostly on his government.
Today, All Things Considered spoke to Hamza Oumar, an activist based in the city. He described the scene for Melissa Block. He said after the heavy shelling stopped, the men of the pro-government militia known as Shabiha went door to door.
We'll let you listen to the full the interview. But here is the most dramatic part of it, where Oumar describes what he found after the militia moved out:
"We entered the first house we came across. The door was already open and not torn down. We first saw a woman on the floor, blood covering her chest and left arm. We weren't sure if she was still alive. I went to check other rooms in the house, and I found four children, three tied up and shot from a very close range while the youngest was not tied up but his face was mutilated. Then I saw a woman in her 20s shot to death and a middle-aged man with an open forehead. It seemed as if he was bludgeoned with the back of a gun. In the same house, I saw a teenager and another three kids all shot and deeply stabbed in their necks.
"We went house to house to find the same scene over and over again — the parents and their kids all slaughtered. For the first hour and a half, we couldn't find any survivors, until some emerged from between the trees and backyards."
We added the audio at the top of this post. It will be available shortly.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. We go now to Syria. In a brutal year of rebellion and repression, this week stands out. According to eyewitnesses, the Syrian army shelled the largely Sunni town of Houla last weekend. When the shelling stopped, government-backed militiamen, known as Shabiha, moved in. They went from house to house, systematically slaughtering people. More than 100 were killed, nearly half of them children.
BLOCK: We're going to hear now the story of what happened in Houla from a local, anti-government activist who made his way to the killing zone not long after the Shabiha arrived. His name is Hamza Oumar. He told us that Houla was singled out because it's been the site of massive protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He said the Shabiha appeared to have come from neighboring Alawite villages, which support Assad.
Before we begin, a word of warning: Our interview includes disturbing details about the massacre.
HAMZA OUMAR: (Through interpreter) We took shelter behind trees until we got as close as 400 meters away from the village. From there we saw Shabiha gangs, fully armed and accompanied by agents dressed in military clothing. They went door to door, and performed some of the executions. We heard women and children screaming. This lasted for an hour and a half.
BLOCK: You're saying they were with people in military attire. Were they from the Syrian army itself?
OUMAR: (Through interpreter) Yes, yes.
BLOCK: You're saying that the people who were going from house to house in Houla were not just these thugs - this pro-regime militia - but also, members of the Syrian army?
OUMAR: (Through interpreter) The trick is that the military agents knock on the door and usually, people open it up out of fear. But then, the Shabiha are led into the house to slaughter the whole family. So the military soldiers are there to secure the neighborhood and facilitate the Shabiha's brutal killings. That story was also corroborated by survivors of that day.
BLOCK: When you were able to get to the site of the massacre, Hamza Oumar, what did you see?
OUMAR: (Through interpreter) We entered the first house we came across. The door was already open, and not torn off. We saw a woman on the floor, blood covering her chest and her left arm. We weren't sure if she was still alive. I went in to check the other rooms in the house, and I found four children. Three were tied up, and had been shot at a very close range. The youngest wasn't tied up but he was dead, and his face was mutilated. Then I saw a woman in her 20s, shot to death, and a middle-aged man with an open forehead. It seemed as if he had been bludgeoned with the back of a gun.
(Through interpreter) In the same house, I saw a teenager and three other kids, all shot and deeply stabbed in their necks.
BLOCK: And was this what you saw as you went from house to house - this kind of slaughter?
OUMAR: (Through interpreter) We went house to house to find the same scene over and over again - the parents and their kids, all slaughtered. For the first hour and a half, we didn't find any survivors. But then, some started emerging from behind trees and in backyards. The woman that we saw at first - with the three children who were tied up - we thought she was dead but turned out, she had survived.
BLOCK: What happens now in Houla after a massacre like this, with so many people, so many children killed? What happens now?
OUMAR: (Through interpreter) The shelling continues. In fact, we heard the neighborhood area is being bombarded just 10 minutes ago. Al-Houla continues to be under siege, and around 40,000 people fled into the three neighboring Sunni villages - three kilometers away from al-Houla - in fear of another massacre.
BLOCK: And as an activist, Hamza Oumar, what is the message for you after this killing?
OUMAR: (Through interpreter) We call upon the international community to take action. Your silence is basically a license to kill, hand it over to the Assad regime. This regime is brutal and blood-thirsty. It can't be taken down except with outside military intervention.
Please, rescue us. We are being slaughtered. We're being slaughtered.
BLOCK: Hamza Oumar, thank you so much for talking with us.
OUMAR: Thank you so much.
BLOCK: That's Syrian activist Hamza Oumar. He was in Houla last weekend when more than 100 people, many of them children, were slaughtered by government-backed militias. And thanks to our interpreter, Hoda Osman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.