Fawzia, a mother of four daughters, fainted after she was shot through the hand. The men who were firing indiscriminately at her family made no effort to finish her off. When she came to, the scene that greeted her was one of horror.
“When I regained consciousness, I looked around, and I found my daughters dead,” she told The Daily Telegraph by telephone from Houla yesterday, still weeping uncontrollably. “One of them – her hand was cut off. My cousin and her four sons were killed. My sister and her a six-week-old daughter were killed.
“I want someone to save us. Where can I go, where in the world is there anyone to protect us? What is the guilt of a six-week-old child?”
One of Fawzia daughters, aged six, had in fact also survived. She came to the telephone to speak, but could not. She has not spoken since Friday night, when the militia struck, her mother says.
The militia, who by the universal agreement of the victims were armed gangs from nearby Alawite villages loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, arrived as Houla came under a fierce bombardment of tank and artillery fire.
Fawzia said in her shock, as she took in the scene afterwards, she fled to the roof of her house. “I looked out from the rooftop, and I found them burning the houses around. They killed the Othman family, who lived next door.”
As rescuers arrived, they found a scene of chaos, with smoke rising from the houses, children screaming for their mothers and paramilitaries still running through the street; in fact, more were still arriving by bus, said an activist who was one of the first on the scene, and gave his name as Abu Jawfer. Still the shells continued to fall.
They were forced to hide for several hours as the paramilitaries continued their work.
“For hours I heard the screams of women and three times of children, and always gunshots,” Abu Jawfer said. “Then the voices stopped. The silence was the most terrible thing.
“We moved into the first house. There were bodies everywhere. The mother behind the door was motionless but alive. She had been kicked in the chest, her eyes were open and she had watched her children be slaughtered. We counted 14 dead. The father’s skull was crushed. They had killed him by beating him with the butt of a gun. He had been the first to die. The children had all been shot.
The men moved from house to house, discovering room after room of slain men, women and children.
“I started trying to carry the bodies away. We carried children who had holes in their eye sockets, who had had a gun put to their right ear and the bullet had gone straight through. Some had cut necks, others severed limbs. One woman had run outside to defend her husband. They shot him in front of her. In the panic she fled, forgetting her children. They killed her children. Now she is crying, crippled with guilt.”
More than 10,000 families have moved to other parts of Houla, further away from the front line. But yesterday activists contacted in the town said the shelling had continued overnight, and snipers continued to rake the street.
“Some are sleeping out in the fields,” Abu Jawfar said. “They are too frightened to go home and have nowhere to go.
“I can never forget what I saw in Houla. It keeps coming back to me, every horrible detail. What happened is unimaginable. It is not human.”