It's hard to look at the images coming out of Syria today. They show the bloodied bodies of dozens of children strewn on the floors of morgues. Some of them are just babies, their gazes frozen, still wearing the outfits they had on when they were killed by government forces. In one image, there are so many dead children on a single rug, their limbs are overlapping. One of them is a little girl covered in blood. She's wearing a pink shirt dress with a yellow duckling.
As we've told you on this blog, the images from Syria are distributed by the opposition and taken by citizen journalists. But this time, we have confirmation from United Nations observers on the ground that this massacre in Houla did happen, yesterday.
According to the U.N., their observers visited the city today and counted bodies: More than 32 children under the age of 10 and 60 adults. Some of them killed during the shelling, but others, reports the BBC, were "summarily executed, or butchered" by a regime militia.
"This appalling and brutal crime involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and violence in all its forms," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. "Those responsible for perpetrating this crime must be held to account."
The United States said it was "horrified" by the killings.
"These acts serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality," said Erin Pelton, of the president's National Security Council.
The U.N. estimates that 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the regime of Bashar Assad began in Syria about 14 months ago. Since then, the international community has attempted to negotiate a ceasefire. But all of them — including the lastest one brokered by international peace envoy Kofi Annan — have fallen short.
The New York Times reports that the Annan peace plan, which the regime had approved, may be at a breaking point:
"A man in a black knitted mask who appeared on one YouTube video, for example, said it was time 'to prepare for vengeance against this awful sectarian regime.'
"The rebel Free Syrian Army, the loose federation of armed militias across the country, issued a statement saying it was no longer committed to the United Nations truce because the plan was merely buying time for the government to kill civilians and destroy cities and villages.
"'We won't allow truce after truce, which prolongs the crisis for years,' the statement said."
What happens next is unclear, but as we reported yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban said that at the moment the international community does not have a plan-B for Syria.
The BBC reports that Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said "he would seek a strong global response." Hague said he would call for an urgent session of the U.N.'s Security Council.
Update at 10:35 p.m. ET. The Images:
Note that we did not publish any of the images we described. If you're so inclined, the videos from where those images were taken, were collected by @Brown_Moses on his blog. Be warned — they are gruesome.
Update at 10:45 p.m. ET. 'Stand In Solidarity':
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement saying:
"Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account. And the United States will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Asad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end.
"We stand in solidarity with the Syrian people and the peaceful marchers in cities across Syria who have taken to the streets to denounce the massacre in Haoula [sic]."