Original link from Global Research
June 09, 2012
Links to two articles in German Press
English translations from the articles:
The prime German daily, the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has a new report (in German) about the Houla massacre. The author is Rainer Hermann who studied and speaks Arabic, Turkish and Farsi. Hermann also has a PhD in economics and wrote his thesis about the modern Syrian social history. He currently lives in Abu Dhabi and has been reporting from the Middle East for over 22 years.
What follows is my translation of the relevant parts of his report, which is datelined from Damascus, about the Houla massacre:
Syrian opposition members who are from that region were during the last days able to reconstruct the most likely sequence of events based on accounts from authentic witnesses. Their result contradicts the pretenses from the rebels who had accused regime allied Shabiha they alleged were acting under the protection of the Syrian army. As opposition members who reject the use of lethal force were recently killed or at least threatened, the opposition members [talking to me] asked that their names be withheld.
The massacre of Houla happened after Friday prayers. The fighting started when Sunni rebels attacked three Syrian army checkpoints around Houla. These checkpoints were set up to protect the Alawi villages around the predominantly Sunni Houla from assaults.
One attacked checkpoint called up units from the Syrian army, which has barracks some 1500 meters away, for help and was immediately reinforced. Dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed during the fighting around Houla which is said to have lasted about 90 minutes. During these fights the three villages were closed off from the outside world.
According to the witness accounts the massacre happened during this timeframe. Killed were nearly exclusively families from the Alawi and Shia minorities in Houla which has a more than 90% Sunni population. Several dozen members of one extended family, which had in recent years converted from Sunni to Shia believe, were slaughtered. Also killed were members of the Alawi family Shomaliya and the family of a Sunni member of parliament who was [by the rebels] considered a government collaborator. Members of the Syrian government confirmed this version but pointed out that the government committed to not publicly speak of Sunnis and Alawis. President al-Assad is Alawi while the opposition is overwhelmingly from the Sunni population majority.
While I do not agree with the FAZ’s general editorial positions, I have followed Rainer Hermann reports for years. In my view he is an very reliable and knowledgeable reporter who would not have written the above if he had doubts or no additional confirmation about what he was told by the opposition members he talked to.
Posted by b on June 9, 2012 at 02:51 PM | Permalink
Was Houla Massacre a Manufactured Atrocity?
Posted on 06/14/2012 by Steve Rendall FAIR
It’s been widely reported that on May 25, pro-Syrian forces massacred 108 civilians in the Syrian village of Houla, including 34 women and 49 children, many of whose throats were cut. The reported atrocity has sparked the latest round of appeals for intervention in the conflict in Syria. Syrian diplomats have been expelled from several countries over the massacre, including by U.S., Britain, France, Australia and Canada; ”Syrian Diplomats Expelled Across World as Outrage Over Houla Massacre Grows,” the British Guardian(5/29/12) declared.
“Who Will Stop the Massacres?” asked the headline on a May 29 Washington Post editorial. As the editors explained: “Horrific as it was, the Houla massacre is not unique, just better documented than the crimes perpetrated by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in towns and cities across Syria.”
The editorial accused the Obama administration of inaction—”declining to exercise the U.S. leadership that would be required to stop the massacres”—and hiding behind U.N. negotiator Kofi Annan.
The Chicago Tribune (5/28/12) ran a typical news story on the massacre, reporting that Syrian Americans were demonstrating for U.S. intervention after “more than 100 people, including women and children, lay dead in the Syrian town of Houla, the latest victims of Assad’s violent rule, according to United Nations observers.” The Tribune said “follow-up reports” on Sunday indicated “that as many as 49 children were among them. Many were shot in the head or their throats were slit.”
ABC‘s Christiane Amanpour (6/8/12) quoted one “highly placed Syrian insider” saying that the massacre was part of a program of ethnic cleansing: “What’s emerging is a campaign of ethnic cleansing. These massacres [are] used by the Syrian president to expel populations disloyal to him and to consolidate control in what might become a divided Syria.”
“Follow” us. wammtoday.wordpress.com. To help us Speak Truth to Power, your donation is appreciated. Click here to donate.
WAMMToday is now on Facebook! Check the WAMMToday page for posts from this blog and more! “Like” our page today.
For the TC EVENTS calendar and the ACTIONS AND ACTION ALERTS click on the tab at the top of the page and click on the item of interest to view.
But is the Houla massacre really “better documented” than other atrocity stories emerging from Syria? On June 7, a major fissure began to appear in the storyline, when leading German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung (FAZ) quoted sources who said that the Houla massacre was carried out by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and that their victims were nearly all Alawi and Shia—populations traditionally loyal to Assad.
According to Syria expert Patrick Seale (Agence Global, 6/12/12) ,who quoted translated parts of the German story, FAZ sources said after the killings, “the perpetrators then filmed their victims and, in videos posted on the internet, presented them as Sunni victims of the regime.”
On June 7, the BBC began to back away from its earlier stories that had reported the conventional line, blaming pro-government forces for a massacre that including the cutting of women’s and children’s throats. As the UK media watch group Media Lens (6/13/12) reported:
Last week, however, in what might almost be interpreted as a mea culpa, the BBC’s World News editor, Jon Williams, began a June 7 blog emphasizing “the complexity of the situation on the ground in Syria, and the need to try to separate fact from fiction.”
This was a surprising emphasis—the BBC had previously communicated no sense of “complexity” in blaming the Syrian government. Williams continued:
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…. In Houla, and now in Qubair, the finger has been pointed at the shabiha, pro-government militia. But tragic death toll aside, the facts are few: it’s not clear who ordered the killings—or why.
Stories are never black and white—often shades of grey. Those opposed to President Assad have an agenda. One senior Western official went as far as to describe their YouTube communications strategy as “brilliant.” But he also likened it to so-called “psy-ops,” brainwashing techniques used by the U.S. and other military to convince people of things that may not necessarily be true. A healthy scepticism is one of the essential qualities of any journalist—never more so than in reporting conflict. The stakes are high–all may not always be as it seems.
As Williams now avers, it is hard to tell what’s true when it comes to Syria; independent reporters or observers are not able to operate freely, and have been endangered by both sides. It is fair to assume by many accounts that the Syrian government is likely responsible for a lion’s share of the violence. It is also fair to assume that various rebel factions have acted with brutality.
So, yes, a healthy skepticism is required–preferably before publication—of tendentious, one-sided stories that cannot be confirmed independently. The cost of getting things wrong can be enormous. We still don’t know with certainty what happened in Houla on May 25. But if it turns out that rebels did the killing, this story may end up ranking with such false but effective stories of war-mongering propaganda as the the tales of German soldierscatching Belgian babies on bayonets in World War One, or Iraqis removing Kuwaiti babiesfrom incubators in advance of the 1991 Gulf War.
UPDATE: I think it’s worth adding more detail from the June 7 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) story. The reporter, Rainer Hermann, did not travel to the scene of the massacre in Houla, and did not directly quote sources making claims about who did the killing and who the victims were. His account was based on interviews with eyewitnesses conducted by nonviolent opponents of the Assad regime who investigated the massacre. According to Hermann (WSWS, 6/13/12):
Their findings contradict allegations of the rebels, who had blamed the Shabiha militias which are close to the regime…. As oppositionists rejecting the use of force have been killed or at least threatened lately, the oppositionists did not want to see their names mentioned.
It was in this context that Hermann reported:
According to eyewitnesses, the massacre took place during this time. Among the dead were almost exclusively families of the Alawite and Shia minorities of Houla, the population of which is made up of 90 percent Sunnis. Several dozen members of a family that had converted in recent years from the Sunni faith to Shia Islam were slaughtered. Also among the dead were members of the Alawite family Shomaliya and the family of a Sunni member of parliament who was regarded as a collaborator.