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An article by Alfred Hackensberger
Massacre of al-Houla: In Syria, there is more than just one truth

For the massacre of al-Houla (al-Hula), the Syria regime is doomed. But no one dares to accuse the Syrian rebels.

26 June 2012

Too many people have died in clashes in Syria. But the truth is not always that which is presented in the West.

Left the road, a large lake, which glistens in the sun. A man fishing, children jump merrily from the shore into the water. In the distance one can see the houses of a village that is located in a plain, which acts still lush and green in the warm June. A rural idyll in which one thinks immediately of holidays.

But it was here in Taldu, a suburb of the town of al-Houla (al-Hula), where the most horrible massacre of the civil war, which began 16 months ago in Syria, took place. On 25 May, 108 people were murdered here, including many women and children.

The driver refuses to drive on. He imitates with the hands a rifle and says “Boom, boom.” But the Syrian military anyway does not let anyone pass. “You cannot get further than here, we do not want that you might get shot”, said a powerful man with a bald head in the base at the entrance.

What follows is a rant on Germany, the United States, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They support the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), which also has taken (SN: still occupies) Taldu. Suddenly the bald guy pulls down his sweatpants, and he has several large shot-scars in the hip, thigh and legs. “See! My ass.. Free Syrian Army.. they are not human”, he shouts loudly.

Despite the volume, his eyes are expressionless, cold. We instinctively think: He could have been there when people were murdered in Taldu.

Controversy about the background of the massacre

The government of Bashar al-Assad is made international responsible for the massacre. Many states withdrew their ambassadors from Syria afterwards, including Germany. But now there is a controversy about the background of the case.

In early June an article in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ) caused sensation, in the article, alleged witnesses have claimed that the rebels had committed the massacre.

Those killed were in fact Shiites, like President Assad, who belongs to the Shiite faith of the Alawites like a large part of the Syrian elite. That they might have drawn the hatred of the rebels on themselves.

This week the “Spiegel” has put up some resistance. It says there, that only Sunnis had lived in Taldu. And (SN: allegedly) survivors said men in uniforms had committed the acts. The witnesses have also explained the same to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW). But the rebels also wear military clothing sometimes – some have captured them, others are deserting soldiers. In this war there are no rules and very few certainties.

Openness in Syria means death

The monastery of St. James is located about 90 kilometers from the capital Damascus in the middle of the Syrian desert. The buildings of cream-colored rock stones with pointed arches, colonnades, and shaded courtyards host the gardens with flower and vegetable beds.

When the Lebanese nun Agnès de la Croix-Mariam visited the monastery in the ’90s, it was almost a ruin. She has built up through hard work again. About 20 nuns and monks from Syria, Lebanon, France, Belgium and the United States live here currently.

But since the beginning of the Civil War they found hardly any opportunity to contemplation. The monastery takes readily refugees of all faiths and is a meeting place for Christians in the region. Behind the walls of the monastery of St. Jacob, it feels secure and one dares to speak openly about things that would mean the death outside the monastery.

Even Jibril (name changed) is now here. “From him we knew it as the very first, that the massacre was not committed by the Syrian army, but by the rebels,” says nun (Sister) Agnes-Mariam. He had witnessed the atrocities and informed the monastery on the same day.

The nervousness is to note at Jibril. If one piece of information gets through the outside, which suggests his identity, he would be a dead man, but yet he says, slowly and with deliberate words, his version of the 25th May in Taldu.

Another version of events in Taldu

“The fighting began around noon, when the rebels, coming from Ar-Rastan and Saan, attacked the checkpoints of the army around Hula,” says the man in his late thirties. The position at the entrance near the hospital was the first thing that was overrun.

The soldiers fled and the rebels went to the hospital and killed patients there. Why, he does not know it, and just as little why so many other people were killed. Then, several teams targeted went in selected houses and had started to shoot all of the inhabitants. “They did nothing to the neighbors”, says Jibril.

Of the two families which were killed, he knew the Sajid’s personal. “They were Sunni Muslims, like all of us”, he says. “They were killed by them because they have rejected to join the revolution.” They’ve even murdered a Member of Parliament, who insisted on his candidacy in the elections in early May and had refused the boycott of the FSA.

“After the massacre, the rebels have brought all the dead bodies to the mosque”, said Jibril. On the question of whether the regime loyal, the Shabiha, have massacred the people, Jibril raised his head and snaps with the tongue, customary. “Exemplary nonsense”, he says.

Anyone who has seen Taldu, will have doubts about the reports, that several hundred soldiers and Assad-supporters were able to come to the village without any resistance.

Hula (al-Houla) is in rebel hands, since December 2011. Taldu lies in an open area where there is little opportunity to seek cover. The village is easy to defend with machine guns and bazookas. The Army would like to reclaim Taldu, but it has not been done.

Jibril says, “Of course, many people know what really happened in Hula”. But all fear for their lives. “Who’s there and now opens his mouth, can only replay the version of the rebels. Everything else is the certain death.”

Alfred Hackensberger
Berliner Morgenpost, 23 June, 2012.