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Clinton condemns Syria massacre: Assad's 'rule by murder' must end

Dozens of people are dead in Syria after the latest wave of violence. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

Updated 5:39 a.m. ET Sunday: The perpetrators of a massacre that left more than 92 dead – including 32 young children – in Houla, Syria “must be identified and held to account," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday.

The United Nations said the victims died in what activists described as an artillery barrage by government forces in the worst violence since the start of a peace plan to slow the flow of blood in Syria's uprising.


The bloodied bodies of children, some with their skulls split open, were shown in footage posted to YouTube purporting to show the victims of the shelling in the central town on Friday. The sound of wailing filled the room.

Clinton issued a statement early Sunday saying the United States condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms”. She also issued a warning for the country's leader, President Bashar Assad.

“Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account,” she said. “And 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.

“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.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was coordinating a "strong response" to the killings and would call for the U.N. Security Council to meet in the coming days. 

Activists said Assad's forces shelled  Houla after security forces killed a protester and following skirmishes between troops and fighters from the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency fighting Syria's rulers, who belong to the minority Alawite sect.

However, Syrian authorities denied responsibility. "Women, children and old men were shot dead. This is not the hallmark of the heroic Syrian army," the country's foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi told reporters in Damascus on Sunday, according to Reuters.

Earlier, Syrian state television aired some of the footage disseminated by activists after the killing, calling the bodies victims of a massacre committed by "terrorist" gangs.

The carnage underlined just how far Syria is from any negotiated path out of the 14-month-old revolt against Assad. 

Reuters

These were among the bodies being prepared for burial in Houla, Syria, on Saturday.

The U.N. first reported the massacre on Friday. "The observers confirmed from examination of ordinances the use of artillery tank shells," Maj. Gen. Robert Mood said in a statement, without elaborating. "Whoever started, whoever responded and whoever carried out this deplorable act of violence should be held responsible."

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said residents continued to flee the town, in central Homs province, in fear that artillery fire would resume.

Syria calls the revolt a "terrorist" conspiracy run from abroad, a veiled reference to Sunni Muslim Gulf powers that want to see weapons provided to an insurgency led by Syria's majority Sunnis against Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect.

The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians, in the uprising. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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