U.S. Hopes Houla Tragedy Changes Russia’s Stance on Syria

The United States hopes the deadly tragedy in the Syrian town of Houla will change Russia’s position on the Syrian conflict, the State Department said on Tuesday.

“We are appreciative of the fact that the Russians are willing to have a full investigation, because we think it’s undisputable what that investigation is going to show,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

“It’s going to show that these were regime-sponsored thugs who went into villages, went into homes and killed children at point-blank range and their parents, and that they – responsibility goes right back to the [President Bashar] Assad regime,” Nuland told journalists.

“So you know, from that perspective, is this going to be a turning point in Russian thinking? We hope so,” she said.

Over 100 people, including dozens of children and women, were killed in Houla in Homs province, in the May 25-26 attack that was one of the deadliest single events since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. The UN Security Council on Sunday condemned the massacre, which took place shortly before Tuesday’s visit to Syria by Annan.

Syrian opposition activists have blamed the Houla killings on pro-government fighters, an accusation flatly denied by the Syrian authorities, who say the tragedy was a terrorist plot aimed at undermining the regime.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday expressed deep concern over the recent massacre in Houla and called for an unbiased investigation of the tragedy. An objective and unbiased probe into all circumstances should be carried out under the auspices of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Lavrov told UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan on the phone.

Lavrov also said both sides in Syria should give up violence to prevent any such incidents in the future and added that the task to implement Annan’s peace plan is becoming more urgent in the current circumstances. Annan said he hopes for further progress and thanked Russia for support of his efforts, the ministry said.

Over 10,000 people have been killed in clashes between the government and opposition forces in Syria since the start of the anti-Assad uprising, according to UN estimates.

Russia and China have twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions over what Moscow called a pro-rebel bias since the start of the uprising against Assad, but have supported Annan’s peace plan.

The veto was meant to prevent the repetition of the “Libyan scenario.” In Libya, rebels ousted and killed long-standing dictator Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011 after a months-long military standoff in which they received assistance from NATO forces.

Moscow insists that both the government and “armed terrorist gangs” operating in Syria should be held responsible for the unrest.


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