Houla Massacre in Syria: The Lies of the Ruling Class Media – July 2012

This photo, used by the BBC in connection with the Houla massacre, was revealed by the photographer Marco Di Lauro, to actually depict the skeletons of Kurds killed in Al Musayyib, Iraq, in 2003. The BBC credited the picture as from 'activists'.

On 25 May the massacre of 108 people in Houla near Homs shot to the top of the news agenda around the world, closely followed by 55-78 reported deaths in Qubair on 8 June. Following the Houla massacre, The Independent's headline – 'Syria: The world looks the other way. Will you?' - demonstrates the conclusions which the capitalist media happily jumped to, calling for international action.

The massacres slotted neatly into NATO's narrative of the escalating 'civil war' in Syria, and provided the excuse for a co-ordinated expulsion of diplomats and harsh denunciations of the Syrian government from Hillary Clinton and William Hague. The facts, or lack them, however, did not concern NATO leaders, and even a string of authoritative reports disputing the Western media's accounts has been ignored. The hegemonic role of the capitalist media in backing up their imperialist ruling classes has been demonstrated once again. The deaths of Syrian people are used as a political tool in the struggle for influence over the region’s markets, trade routes and resources.

The details surrounding the Houla massacre are still unclear, but what is clear is that the initial assertions of Bashar al-Assad's direct personal responsibility are based on nothing but NATO imperialists’ drive for regime change. The Independent called upon people to get 'very, very angry' with 'the brutal Assad regime', and carried a cartoon of the Syrian President sitting in a bath filled with blood. The Guardian's cartoonist, Martin Rowson, depicted Assad with his mouth and face smeared with the blood of children. This is reminiscent of the media campaign of dehumanisation pursued against Muammar Gaddafi, paving the way for his brutal murder.

The initial reaction was based on the supposition that these 108 people, including 55 children, had been killed by Syrian government shelling. It was tempered by reports from the UN Human Rights Office, claiming that most of the victims were killed at close range 'probably' by 'shabbihas, the local [pro-Assad] militia'. Following this statement, a rash of reports laid the blame unquestioningly at the door of these 'shabbihas' – a vague and unspecific term, referring to groups which are certainly not accountable to the Syrian government.

The BBC and The Guardian both referred to a 'regime-backed' massacre. The former even published a photo of hundreds of bodies wrapped in sheets, purporting to show the victims of the Houala massacre. This photo was actually taken in 2003 in Al Mussayyib, Iraq. Fact-checking was, however, not important, as the photo presented the desired message.

Whilst these images and assertions dominated the majority of the capitalist media, alternative accounts from eyewitnesses and journalists on the ground were largely ignored. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has played a key role in disputing the accepted version of events. Its reporter Rainer Hermann was on the ground, and in two important articles, he revealed the identity of many of those killed in Houla, the political background, and the likely course of events. 84 of the dead have been identified: These are the fathers, mothers and 49 children of the Al Sayyid family and two branches of the Abdarrazzaq family. Residents of the city say that they were Alawites and Muslims  who had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. A few kilometres away from the border with Lebanon, this made them suspect of being sympathizers of Hezbollah, detested among Sunnis. Also killed in Taldou were relatives of the government-loyal member of parliament Abdalmuti Mashlab.[1]

These particular families were specifically targeted in separate parts of Taldou, Houla, and no Sunni neighbours were killed. Hermann cites the one survivor, an 11 year old boy who explained that the perpetrators had shaved heads and long beards – 'the look of fanatical jihadists, not of the Shabiha militia'. Hermann suggests that the course of events can be reconstructed from the available evidence: following Friday prayers on 25 May, more than 700 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) attacked checkpoints around Houla, coming from their strongholds around Rastan. Following the attacks in which 24 soldiers were killed, the FSA, supported by local residents killed families who supported the government or had refused to join the opposition.

The sectarian nature of the FSA has been repeatedly reported, and this version of events has been supported by nuns from the Jacob Monastery nearby, which has been dealing with the humanitarian consequences of this ethnic cleansing. Leaked emails from the inbox of the Syrian National Council ex-leader, Burhan Ghalioun, also revealed disputes within the FSA in Homs about the dominance of the al-Farouk brigade, the largest of the militias. They have direct lines of contact with Saudi Arabia, and have been accused of executing other FSA militia members and encouraging sectarian cleansing.[2]

These accounts of the massacre, as well as the wider situation in FSA-controlled or disputed areas of Syria, point to purposeful disinformation by the imperialist ruling classes and their media. US, British, and French special forces have been shown to be operating with the FSA inside Syria, and it is impossible to believe that the real situation in Houla was not reported back to Washington, London, and Paris. The opportunity to blame the massacre on the Syrian government, and pro-Assad militias, was taken to build pressure on the government, and ultimately their allies in Russia, China, and Iran. This deliberate policy of misrepresentation is the psychological warfare component of the escalating military attack on Syria. A co-ordinated expulsion of ambassadors by the US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia and Canada was a key step of this strategy, and marks an escalation of the imperialist campaign against the Syrian state. Now, with the UN observer mission pulling out due to safety concerns, more drastic measures are being proposed. Frustrated with the stagnation of their intensive destabilisation campaign, a 'political transition' through negotiation is being proposed by the US and British ruling classes, with apparent Russian support. Their sole objective is to install an imperialist-pliant government, and their media are behind them every step of the way.

Russia's influence in Syria is constantly highlighted by US and European imperialists, and the wider dimensions of the conflict are becoming clearer. Russia and Iran have been revealed to be training and arming the Syrian army, with Iranian commandos on the ground in Syria. NATO's regional client states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya are arming and fighting alongside the FSA rebels, with the resources, co-ordination, and special forces assistance of the US, Britain, France, and Israel, among others. Following the recent downing of a Turkish jet by Syrian air defences, Turkish troops are being massed on the Syrian border, and Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called for 'massive intervention', on 'the Bosnian model'. What the situation in Syria reveals above all, is the huge economic stakes which are being raised by the capitalist crisis.

Toby Harbertson

[1]    German orginal: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/arabische-welt/syrien-eine-ausloeschung-11784434.html

English translation: http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/06/new-faz-piece-on-houla-massacre-the-extermination.html#more

2          http://mideastshuffle.com/2012/05/13/homs-opposition-al-farouq-battalion-is-killing-us/


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