The weekend massacre of more than 100 people became a potential turning point in the Syrian crisis as even staunch ally Russia took an unusually hard line against President Bashar Assad’s government.
Russia has grown increasingly critical of Damascus in recent months, but foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s latest comments were unusually strong.
Although he said opposition forces have terrorists among them, he put the blame for 15 months of carnage primarily on Assad’s government.
Mr Lavrov said in Moscow following a meeting with Foreign Secretary William Hague: “The government bears the main responsibility for what is going on. Any government in any country bears responsibility for the security of its citizens.”
Alexei Malashenko, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said Mr Lavrov’s comments suggest Russia may be backing away from its long-standing support for Damascus.
He said: “Bashar Assad is driving himself and Russia into a corner. Bashar has definitely gotten the sense that he may lose Russia’s sympathy, and he may step back a bit.”
It is not clear whether Assad’s forces were exclusively to blame for the slaughter of 108 people on Friday in Houla, a collection of poor farming villages in Homs province.
The United Nations said 49 children and 34 women were among the dead. Some had bullet holes through their heads.
The UN Security Council blamed Syrian forces for artillery and tank shelling of residential areas, but it did not clearly state who was responsible for the close-range shooting deaths and “severe physical abuse” of civilians.
Activists from the area said the Syrian army pounded the villages with artillery and clashed with local rebels. They said pro-government gunmen later stormed the area, doing the bulk of the killing by gunning down men in the streets and stabbing women and children in their homes.