Arab League foreign ministers are to hold an emergency meeting on a massacre in Syria in which U.N. observers say government forces killed 92 people, the bloc’s current president Kuwait said on Sunday.
“Kuwait will contact members of the Arab League to hold an emergency ministerial meeting to study the situation and take measures to put an end to the oppressive practices against the Syrian people,” said a foreign ministry statement cited by the official KUNA news agency.
Kuwait has also made contacts at regional and international levels “to urge the international community to assume its responsibility to stop the bloodshed,” the ministry said.
It strongly condemned the “brutal crime carried out by the Syrian regime forces in the town of Houla which resulted in the killing of dozens, most of them children and women.”
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan called Saturday for an urgent Arab League meeting, saying the “massacre shows the failure of Arab and international efforts to stop the violence against civilians in Syria.”
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, grouping Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, also urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities.”
Hundreds of Kuwaitis including several MPs rallied outside the Syrian embassy on Saturday to condemn the massacre. The protesters demanded that the Kuwait government send arms to the rebel Free Syrian Army.
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 of Houla on Friday.
The carnage underlined just how far Syria is from any negotiated path out of the 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
“This morning U.N. military and civilian observers went to Houla and counted more than 32 children under the age of 10 and over 60 adults killed,” the head of U.N. team monitoring the ceasefire negotiated by former U.N. Secretary general Kofi Annan - which has yet to take hold - said.
“The observers confirmed from examination of ordinances the use of artillery tank shells,” Major General 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.”
Mood described the violence as “indiscriminate and disproportionate.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the deaths an “atrocity” and said Washington would work with the international community to heap pressure on “Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end.”
“Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account,” she said in a statement.
Britain said it was in urgent talks with allied countries on “a strong international response” while France said it was making plans to host a “Friends of Syria” meeting in the wake of the latest deadly violence.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was “appalled by the reports of the brutal massacre” and called on the Syrian regime to immediately cease all forms of violence and to abide by Annan’s peace plan.
She said she would talk with the former U.N. chief on Sunday to affirm Europe’s support and would urge the U.N. Security Council members “to remain seized of the matter.”
“The international community must continue to speak with one voice, demanding an end to the bloodshed and urging Assad to step aside and allow a democratic transition,” Ashton said.
In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded “the government of Syria immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers.”
Activists said Assad’s forces shelled the town of Houla evening after security forces killed a protester and following skirmishes between troops and rebels fighters.
A British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Houla residents fled, fearing more shelling. It said one person was killed in the northern town of Saraqeb when troops fired on a protest against the killing.
Syrian state television aired some of the footage disseminated by activists after the killing in Houla, calling the bodies victims of a massacre committed by “terrorist” gangs.
It also showed video of bodies with what looked like gunshot wounds to the head, sprawled on bloodstained mattresses.
France’s new Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was making immediate arrangements for the Friends of Syria nations -- which include Britain but not key UN players China and Russia -- to meet in Paris.
“I condemn the atrocities committed daily by Bashar al-Assad on his own people,” Fabius said. “With these new crimes his murderous regime plunges Syria further into horror and threatens regional stability.”
Fabius said he would speak to Annan on Sunday, adding: “In the face of horror, the international community must mobilize still further to stop the martyrdom of the Syrian people.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was “shocked and horrified” at the killings.
“It is appalling that the Syrian regime does not put an end to the brutal violence against its own people,” Westerwelle said in a statement. “Those responsible for this crime must be punished.”