China yesterday condemned a massacre of more than 100 people in the central Syrian town of Houla and called for an immediate investigation to identify those responsible.
The foreign ministry said it was “deeply shocked” by the killings and urged the swift implementation of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, a day after the UN condemned the Syrian regime’s use of artillery in Houla.
However, it stopped short of pointing the finger directly at the Syrian government, after Russia questioned whether Damascus was behind the violence.
“China is deeply shocked and strongly condemns the incident,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Liu Weimin (劉為民) said. “China ... calls for an immediate investigation into this issue and to find the perpetrators. This incident again shows that Syria should waste no time to implement the ceasefire and end the violence.”
“We hope Annan will continue to play an active role and relevant parties will continue to provide support toward Annan’s six-point proposal,” Liu said. “We urge relevant parties in Syria to immediately and comprehensively uphold relevant [UN] Security Council resolutions and Annan’s six-point proposal, stop all violence, properly protect innocent civilians, ease tensions there and push forward the political resolution of the Syrian issue.”
In Moscow, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov said both sides in the conflict “clearly had a hand in the fact that peaceful citizens were killed” in Houla.
“We do not support the Syrian government. We support the plan of Kofi Annan,” Lavrov said at a joint news conference with his British counterpart, William Hague.
However, he added that world powers had to “play the game of fulfilling the Kofi Annan plan and not the game of regime change.”
Their meeting came after the New York Times reported US President Barack Obama’s administration is considering working with Russia on a plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure under a proposal modeled on the transition in Yemen.
Lavrov did not make any direct comment on the report, but made clear that Russia’s priority was not “who is in power” in Syria, but ending the violence.
Russia had earlier joined other Security Council powers in condemning the Syrian government for using artillery in a massacre in the town of Houla that left 108 people dead, many of them children, and 300 injured.
Britain and France had proposed a UN statement making an even stronger condemnation of the al-Assad government, but this was rejected by Russia.
Meanwhile, Annan headed to Damascus yesterday in a bid to salvage his battered peace plan.
He was to meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem later yesterday ahead of talks with al-Assad today, a Syrian official said on condition of anonymity.
Annan’s six-point blueprint was supposed to begin with a ceasefire from April 12, but it is broken daily and 87 people were killed on Sunday in one of the deadliest days since its nominal start, a watchdog said.
Thirty-four of the dead were killed in the flashpoint central city of Hama when government forces bombarded residential area following clashes with rebel fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Hama is like a ghost city,” an activist said by telephone from the city yesterday. “We are very afraid now, because the regime troops are surrounding the areas where there was fighting, and we fear there might be a new attack.”