Saturday, June 16, 2012

Truth is the first victim in the Syrian civil war


The Hula massacre was a turning point in the Syrian drama. . There was great worldwide outrage when on 25 May, 108 people were killed, among them 49 children. Calls for a military intervention have been raised to end the bloodshed, and the violence in Syria has since escalated steadily. Almost unanimously world opinion, based on an Arab news channel, and the visit of UN observers on the following day, blamed the massacre on the regular army and Schabiha militia which is close to the regime.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has in the past week put this version into question on the basis of reports from eye witnesses. The paper has reported that the civilians killed were Alawites and Shiites. They were deliberately killed in Taldou, a city in the area of Hula, by armed Sunnis, while heavy fighting was taking place between the army and units of the Free Syrian Army for the control of the place and the streets. This representation is taken up by many media outlets worldwide and by many has been rejected as implausible

Therefore, four questions can be asked: why does global opinion so far believe a different version? Why does the context of the civil war make the doubtful version plausible? Why are the witnesses credible? What other facts support the version?

Firstly, why does global opinion so far believe a different version? Undisputed is the fact that in the first months of the conflict, when the opposition did not yet possess weapons and was defenceless, all atrocities committed were the responsibility of the regime. The assumption is therefore obvious that this would continue. Furthermore, Syrian state media enjoy no credibility. Since the beginning of the conflict, they have used mantra like formulations such as "armed terrorist gangs." Thus, no one believes them, even if this is indeed the case. However, the Arab news channel Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have become key media, which belong to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two states actively involved in the conflict. Not without reason, Germans know the phrase "In war, truth dies first."

Secondly, why does the context of the civil war make the doubtful version plausible? In recent months, many weapons have been smuggled into Syria, long ago more medium weaponry, which has been used for resistance. Every day more than 100 people are killed in Syria, equal numbers of both sides. The militias that operate under the banner of the Free Syrian Army control, broadly control the provinces of Homs and Idlib and extend their dominion over other parts of the country. The increasing lawlessness has led to a wave of criminal kidnappings, which also facilitates the settling of outstanding debts Reading through Facebook or talking to Syrians: Everyone knows about the everyday stories of "religious cleansing" - of people being killed just because they are Alawite or Sunni.

Hula, predominantly inhabited by Sunnis, which lies between the Sunni inhabited Homs and the mountains where the Alawites live, is burdened by a long history of sectarian tensions. The massacre took place in Taldou, one of the largest centres of Hula. The names of the 84 civilians killed are known. These are the fathers, mothers and 49 children of the al Sayyid family and two branches of the Abdarrazzaq family. Residents of the city state that dead are Alawites who have converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. A few kilometers away from the border with Lebanon, they were thus suspected as sympathizers of Hezbollah who are odious to Sunnis. Moreover, relatives of the Member of Parliament, Abdalmuti Mashlab, who supports the regime, were among those murdered.

The homes of three families are located in different parts of Taldou. The members of the families were targeted and killed with one exception. No neighbour was also injured. Local knowledge was a prerequisite for these well-planned "executions". The AP news agency quoted the only survivor of the al Sayyid family, an eleven year old Ali, as saying:. "The perpetrators were shaved and had long beards," Fanatical jihadists look like this, not the militia of the Schabiha. He survived only because he had pretended to be dead and smeared himself with the blood of his mother, the boy said.

Sunni insurgents implement a "liquidation" of all minorities
As early as 1 April, the nun, Agnès-Maryam of the Monastery of St Jacob ("Deir Mar Yakub"), which lies south of Homs in the village of Qara described in a long open letterthe climate of violence and fear in the region. She comes to the conclusion that the Sunni insurgents implement a gradual liquidation of all minorities. She describes the expulsion of Christians and Alawites from their homes, which are occupied by the rebels, and the rape of young girls, who the rebels take as "war booty" ; she was an eye witness when the rebels killed in Wadi Sajjeh street with a car bomb a trader who had refused to close his business, and stated to a camera from Al Jazeera that the regime had committed the crime. Finally, she describes how Sunni insurgents in the Khalidijah suberb locked Alawite and Christian hostages in a house, blew it up and then explain that this was an atrocity of the regime.

Why in this context are the Syrian witnesses to be regarded as credible?
Because they belong to any party to the conflict, but are caught in the middle and have no other interest, than to perhaps even stop a further escalation of violence. Of their number, several people have already been killed. Therefore, no one wants to reveal their identity. Assurance that all details have happened exactly as described cannot be given in a period time in which an independent review of all facts on the ground is not possible. Although the massacre took place in Hula took place as described here, no conclusions can be drawn from it for other atrocities. As before in Kosovo, every massacre must be examined individually after this war.

What other facts support this version? The FAZ was not the first who has reported on a new version of the massacre of Hula. Other reports can only can compete with the big key media outlets. The Russian journalist Marat Musin, who works for the small news agency, Anna, had stopped on 25 and 26 May in Hula, was to become a partial witness and has published the statements of other eyewitnesses. Moreover, Martin Janssen, the Dutch Arabist and freelance journalist who lives in Damascus made contact with the Monastery of St Jacob Monastery after the massacre, which has started in the past taking in many victims of the conflict and whose nuns undertake self-sacrificing humanitarian work.

Rebels told UN observers, their version of the massacre
The nuns told him how on that 25th May more than 700 armed rebels, coming from Rastan, had attacked a roadside checkpoint of the army on the way to Taldou and how the corpses of the killed soldiers and civilians were piled up in front of the mosque and how the next day in front of the cameras of rebel-friendly channels told UN observers, their version of the alleged massacre by the Syrian army. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon could only announce on 26 May to the UN Security Council that the exact circumstances are unclear. The UN could confirm, however, "that there has been artillery and mortar attack. There were also other forms of violence, including shots from up close and serious abuses."

The following sequence of events can be reconstructed: After Friday prayers on the 25th May, more than 700 gunmen attacked under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf in three groups, who came from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba, attacked three roadside checkpoints of the army around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the (mostly also Sunni) soldiers fought bloody battles in which two dozen soldiers, mostly conscripts were killed.  After and during the fighting, the rebels, supported by the residents of Taldou, took the families of Sayyid and Abdarrazzaq. They had refused to join the opposition.

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