Middle East

Satellite image clues to Houla massacre in Syria

They also show what analysts believe was the firing point for Syrian artillery that shelled villages where the massacre took place.

They do not prove conclusively that the Syrian regime was responsible for the deaths on 25-26 May but they do provide further detail of what is being called the single worst atrocity since the Syrian uprising began last year.

All the images were taken on the morning of Saturday 26 May, within hours of the massacre ending.

Forbes McKenzie, a former British Army intelligence officer who now works for the commercial company that analysed the images, said: "These images display a prominent footprint by the Syrian military in the locality of the massacres.

"We assess that it shows where 122mm artillery rounds were fired from on to the site of the massacre."

'Revenge attack'

The first image shows the general area of Homs province around the village of Houla and the lake to the south.

Locations A and B are the 2 villages, Al-Sharqliyah and Foulah, from where local eyewitnesses report that pro-government militia, known as the shabiha , set off on Friday afternoon.

The shabiha are described as armed paramilitary thugs drawn from criminal gangs and with no official position in the military command structure. They have been widely blamed for committing the bulk of the killings at Houla. The government says "armed terrorist gangs" are to blame.

Locations C - shown in close-up to the right of the main image - and D are the Sunni suburbs of the town of Taldou that were attacked from Friday afternoon by shellfire, followed up by shabiha on the ground.

There are indications that this was a revenge attack to "teach them a lesson" after Sunni rebels attacked a nearby government checkpoint.

In C, a home was attacked at 34 degrees 51'N 36 degrees 31E.

Tell-tale tracks?

Location E is where the burial procession took place on Saturday in Taldou, within 24 hours of the deaths.

Location F is a Syrian government vehicle checkpoint on the main supply road coming up from Homs.

A close-up reveals white vehicles, suspected of belonging to the shabiha.

Location G, shown in the second image here, shows a heavy Syrian military presence just 1.5km south-east of the site of the massacre.

It shows a formation of five armoured fighting vehicles plus a tank and a number of other vehicles, believed to belong to the paramilitary shabiha with whom they are accused of working in concert.

The third and final image (Location H in top image) shows what Forbes McKenzie believes are the caterpillar tracks left by a mobile artillery battery that fired on the civilian houses.

The former military intelligence officer told the BBC: "This would be standard Soviet bloc tactics, firing from woods and then withdrawing."

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