Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Houla massacre - no throats slit, uncertainty over whether government or rebel forces responsible and who victims were - many media reports wrongly assume all Syrian opposition claims are true

Media reports on the Houla massacre in Syria were previously quoting people who said they were survivors on all the victims being Sunnis killed by pro-Assad Alawite militia, with children having had their throats cut (1) - (2).

There clearly was a sickening massacre of civilians including children in Houla, but it turns out that few or none of the victims' throats may have been cut. It also seems that we don't know who the killers were, how some of the victims were killed, nor who many of the victims were.

I'm not saying all those who say they are survivors are definitely lying - some or all of them may be entirely truthful, but we simply don't know one way or the other.

As Media Lens has pointed out, Jon Williams, an editor at BBC World News, has written on the BBC website that :

"In the aftermath of the massacre at Houla last month, initial reports said some of the 49 children and 34 women killed had their throats cut. In Damascus, Western officials told me the subsequent investigation revealed none of those found dead had been killed in such a brutal manner. Moreover, while Syrian forces had shelled the area shortly before the massacre, the details of exactly who carried out the attacks, how and why were still unclear. Whatever the cause, officials fear the attack marks the beginning of the sectarian aspect of the conflict. " (3)

Another BBC reporter, Paul Danahar, adds that "There is a sense in Damascus shared by many diplomats, international officials and those opposed to President Assad that his regime may no longer have complete and direct day-to-day command and control of some of the militia groups being blamed for massacring civilians. ........

........Members of the international community in Damascus say that, contrary to initial reports, most of the people in Houla were killed by gunfire spraying the rooms, not by execution-style killings with a gun placed to the back of the head. Also people's throats were not cut, although one person did have an eye gouged out. " (4)

This has not made any headlines, though it should be making them to correct the inital reports (though I think it's pretty unlikely that Assad's regime has no control over pro-government militias - this seems like the same excuse Ariel Sharon tried to use when he let the Phalangist militias into Sabra and Shatila refugee camps to massacre Palestinian civilians)

As with the Kuwaiti babies thrown from incubators story during the 1991 Iraq war and some of the claims made by Libyan rebels of atrocities by Gadaffi's forces turning out to be false (for instance handing out condoms to soldiers, orders to rape all women, anti-aircraft guns used on protesters) we should not be taking every claim made by anyone in the Syrian opposition as true - some may not be (5) - (6).

The German newspaper the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung has also reported some Syrian opposition sources saying the Houla massacre was committed by Sunni rebels with the victims being Alawites and Shia converts who used to be Sunnis, as well as a Sunni MP. (Many jihadist groups consider taking part in elections to by unIslamic and to be collaboration with the enemy.) The newspaper also says the opposition sources wish to remain anonymous because armed rebel groups have already killed opposition members who spoke out against an armed uprising (7).

The FAZ report says Houla is 90% Sunni - something that all reports, including those blaming government militias, agree on, though the FAZ report says Sunni rebels were the killers, able to carry out the killings of a minority in their own community, while other reports say Houla's residents were targeted because they were Sunnis and so are the rebels.

Which version is true is impossible to say in the middle of a civil war with both sides and all their foreign allies spreading their own propaganda - I am not saying that we can know for certain that Assad's militias weren't responsible either , but that is what every media report should be saying until full investigations can be carried out.

While Assad's military and militias who support him are likely to be guilty of many murders, rebels have killed civilians too.

Instead reports which later turn out to be almost competely false are being churned out and aiding calls to send in NATO troops to a potential third world war with Russia and China, or arm the rebels, who are committing atrocities of their own - including car bombings which have killed hundreds of civilians (8) - (9).

(1) = 28 May 2012 'Houla massacre survivor tells how his family were slaughtered',

(2) = Channel 4 News 30 May 2012 'The Searing Grief of Houla's survivors',

(3) = BBC World News 07 Jun 2012 'Reporting conflict in Syria',

(4) = BBC News 'New 'massacre' reported in Syria's Hama province', (see right hand column headed 'Analysis' half way down the page)

(5) = Christian Science Monitor 06 Sep 2002 ‘When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators’,

(6) = Independent 24 Jun 2011 'Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as weapon of war',

(7) = Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany) 07 Jun 2012 'Abermals Massaker in Syrien', ; for English translation see

(8) = Human Rights Watch 20 Mar 2012 'Syria: Armed Opposition Groups Committing Abuses',

(9) = New York Times 10 May 2012 'Dozens Killed in Large Explosions in Syrian Capital', ; 'Twin suicide car bombs that targeted a notorious military intelligence compound shook the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Thursday, killing and wounding hundreds of people ...It was the largest such terrorist attack since the uprising began 14 months ago, with the Health Ministry putting the toll at 55 dead and nearly 400 wounded — civilians and soldiers. '

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