Syria says regime not to blame for massacre; Rice says ‘another blatant lie’

By CNN News

A U.S. official ridiculed as “another blatant lie” a Syrian government report Thursday asserting that terrorists — not security forces — massacred civilians in Houla. Last weekend’s massacre, which left more than 100 people dead, sparked outrage across the globe and prompted calls for action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

But Syria attributed the latest violence to “armed terrorist groups,” the vague entities that the regime has blamed all along for widespread violence against civilians during the nearly 15 months of unrest.

“The goal of the armed operation was to completely terminate the presence of the state in the area and to make it one that is out of the control of the state,” Qasim Jamal Sleiman, head of the investigative panel, said in televised remarks.

“All of the martyrs are from peaceful families who refused to stand against the state and have never demonstrated or carried weapons against the state. They were in disagreement with the armed terrorist groups, which confirms that there was a goal and an interest to kill them.”

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, called the Syrian account “another blatant lie” and said there’s no “factual evidence” to “substantiate that rendition of events.” She said the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, could soon embark on an effort to establish facts in the case and hold people accountable.

The Syrian government investigation said 600 to 800 armed people gathered after Friday prayers at two primary locations and committed the crimes. Sleiman said firearms shot from a close distance and sharp objects were used, but there was no shelling.

“The place where the massacre was committed is an area where armed terrorist groups are present,” Sleiman said. “The security forces did not enter the area before or after the massacre and the area is far from the checkpoints where the security forces are positioned.”

But he said security forces “defended themselves against the armed terrorist groups.” Some of the attackers hailed from the Houla area, investigators said. “Also, some of the bodies that were shown as part of the massacre are bodies of armed individuals who were killed during their attack on the security forces and they are not from the town.”

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