UN observer at scene of Houla massacre 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Syrian authorities on Sunday denied carrying out a massacre after opposition activists said at least 109 civilians were killed in the central town of Houla, among the worst carnage in the 14-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.
"Women, children and old men were shot dead. This is not the hallmark of the heroic Syrian army," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi told reporters in Damascus.
Makdesi said the massacre was carried out by "terrorists" after fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Assad.
"They (rebels) were equipped with mortars and anti-tank missiles, which is a quantitative leap," he said.
Houla is a cluster of Sunni Muslim villages 20 kms (12 miles) north of the city of Homs, a center of the uprising against Assad's rule.
The area is near a region inhabited by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect that has been acting as a hub for pro-Assad militiamen, activists say.
Opposition activists in Homs said the killing started when Syrian troops and militiamen loyal to Assad, known as shabbiha, stationed at roadblocks that surround Houla, fired heavy machine guns at a demonstration in the area on Friday, killing five people.
Free Syrian Army rebels responded by attacking two roadblocks manned by Assad's loyalists, the activists said.
Houla then came under an intense artillery barrage that killed about 15 villagers. Members of the shabbiha militia then entered Houla from the nearby Alawite villages and killed scores of men, women and children by hacking them or shooting them at close range, the activists said.