Syrian troops reportedly shelled on Thursday morning the central farming villages of Houla, the site of a horrific massacre that left 108 people dead last weekend and where gruesome stories of violence have been trickling out to the international press.
Four people were reportedly killed in the latest round of shelling that began shortly after the departure of United Nations observers, who had been sent to Syria in April to monitor a ceasefire negotiated by U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan.
"Heavy gunfire was heard in the town of Taldou, in Houla, accompanied by explosions from the shells falling on the town. Many cars carrying Syrian regular forces have been surrounding the town," the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights wrote on its Facebook page.
Last weekend a massacre carried out in Houla left 108 people dead, including 34 women and 49 children. All of the children were under the age of 10, a U.N. representative told CNN.
The massacre began when government troops opened fire on anti-government protesters during a Friday demonstration. However, as troops receded from the villages, it is widely believed that pro-regime militias known locally as Shabiha went from house to house killing entire families.
According to eyewitness accounts, the gunmen spared no lives while paying particular attention to targeting the most vulnerable segments of society – children and the elderly. A majority of victims in the massacre reportedly were killed execution style by close-range gunfire and knives.
Videos posted to YouTube show horrifying images of dozens of children who had purportedly been killed in the attack, with one in particular showing children lying on the ground bloodied and motionless, some with their skulls split open.
In the days since the massacre, international media outlets have spoken to survivors of the attack who shared accounts that paint a picture of a gruesome bloodbath.
One 11-year-old boy recounted his story to The Associated Press, telling the news agency via Skype on Wednesday that he was forced to play dead as his four siblings and parents were killed right before his eyes.
"I put my brother's blood all over me and acted like I was dead," Ali el-Sayed told the AP.
"I was terrified," the child said. "My whole body was trembling."
Another survivor, a mother who was shot in the hand while three of her four children were killed, shared her story with The Daily Telegraph.
"When I regained consciousness, I looked around, and I found my daughters dead," the mother said. "One of them – her hand was cut off. My cousin and her four sons were killed. My sister and her six-week-old daughter were killed."
"What is the guilt of a 6-week-old child?" she asked.
Another Houla resident spoke to BBC News, recounting how gunmen stormed into his home with Kalashnikovs assault rifles while he was taking refuge in an attic.
"I opened the door, and I saw bodies, I couldn't recognize my kids from my brothers. It was indescribable. I have three children, I lost three children," the man said.
The Syrian government has denied any involvement in the attacks, claiming that "armed terrorists" were behind the massacre.The head of a government investigation panel appeared on state-run television Thursday claiming terrorists had carried out the massacre against innocent pro-regime civilians.
"All of the martyrs are from peaceful families who refused to stand against the state and have never demonstrated or carried weapons against the state. They were in disagreement with the armed terrorist groups, which confirms that there was a goal and an interest to kill them," said Qasim Jamal Sleiman, head of Syria's investigative panel.
"The place where the massacre was committed is an area where armed terrorist groups are present. The security forces did not enter the area before or after the massacre and the area is far from the checkpoints where the security forces are positioned," he added.
Despite the government's claims, much of the international community has spoken out against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, citing witness accounts that point to pro-government forces as being responsible for carrying out the attacks. Also on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice called Syria's claims that terrorists carried out the attacks "another blatant lie."
Nevertheless, the ambassador maintains that the Obama administration believes the best solution to the crisis in Syria remains political.
"Our view has been that the best way to resolve this, if at all possible, is not through intensifying the militarization, not by providing further arms into what is already a hot conflict but to try to resolve it through nonmilitary means through a diplomatic and political process," Rice has said.