Houla massacre: For how long did they practice killing the children?

For how many days did they think about killing the children?

Did they practice what they would say to the father of the boys and girls they handcuffed before they butchered them in front of him?

Did they have a checklist that included enough blue plastic ties to bind the hands of forty-nine children so they could stab and shoot them easily, or do they carry the ties on every murderous outing they take to neighbouring villages?

I'd have a lot of questions for the militiamen who broke into the eight adjoining houses in Houla and massacred a hundred and eight people from the same extended family, the Abdulrazzaq's.

But I don't suppose I, or anyone else from outside Syria, will ever have the chance to ask the butchers of Houla how they could bring themselves to do this.

Maybe one day a court in the Hague may have the chance to ask them not only why they targeted Mr. Abbara, but decided to murder his children before his eyes before killing him.

So, unable to ask questions, or drop bombs, we outside Syria are left with few options. We exercised one today. Britain, most of the EU, the US, Canada and Australia expelled Syrian diplomats.

Burial in Houla Credit: APTN

Britain's Foreign Office called the Houla massacre 'evil'.

And that's it.

Oh yes, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague talked about applying more pressure on the Assad regime. He used the words 'pressure', 'tighten' or 'increase' seven times in less than twenty seconds.

He doth protest too much.

Because he knows, as everyone does, that when regimes fight for their survival and use militias to massacre children without pity, withdrawing their Chargé d'Affairs is going to have no impact whatsoever.

Map of Houla and Homs in Syria

Yet the outside world has few other options. Talk of humanitarian corridors, safe havens and no fly-zones has died away. Besides, none of them would have stopped the killers of Houla in their tracks.

Expelling diplomats is a protest; a howl of condemnation at a near deaf regime.

It's symbolic; one of the last cards we have left to play. We do it to de-legitimize Syria's government just a little more. Yet we have no-one on the opposition side we can turn to and say "we now recognise you as the legitimate leaders of Syria". The opposition is hopelessly divided.

Burial in Houla Credit: APTN

It's a mess.

The Houla massacre is no turning point. It's not Racak - the massacre that was the final straw for the West and the final act of brutality by Milosevic's men in Kosovo before the NATO bombs began to fall.

The children of Houla will not be avenged by the bombs of the West.

Almost certainly, Sunni men will gather soon in the countryside near Houla to discuss how they will kill the children of an Alawite village. They may take blue ties to handcuff them. And so it will go.

And we outside Syria have our hands tied. Because at the moment, and to our shame, there's almost nothing we can do to stop it.

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