The Houla Massacre
The precedent for false flag terrorism in Syria was thus well established by the time of the dreadful Houla massacre, on 25 May 2012, just days before a UN Security Council meeting. This appalling crime involved the murder of 108 civilian villagers, including 34 women and 49 children, around the time of a fire-fight between the FSA and three guard posts of the Syrian Army. This massacre of civilians took place just days before a UN Security Council meeting, set up to discuss Syria. The Security Council immediately condemned the Syrian Government.
From the start there were two conflicting stories: that the Syrian government or its agents had killed the villagers, or that FSA groups had murdered them. In the first case the killings were said to represent blind, indiscriminate violence from the "regime'. In the second case it was said to be a calculated move by the FSA (i) to eliminate pro-government and Alawi groups from a predominantly Sunni area and (ii) to create an incident which would inflame opinion and so influence the Security Council to intervene, in favour of the FSA.
By any standards the Security Council condemnation of the government was premature. Nevertheless, it led immediately to the expulsion of Syrian diplomats from several countries. The Security Council said it:
"condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings " in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood " [and] also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range " Such outrageous use of force against civilian population constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government.' (UNSC 2012)
France's representative at the UN, Martin Briens, said that "Tanks and artillery cannons from the government shelled residential areas killing civilians'. Britain's envoy Mark Lyall Grant said there was evidence of "deliberate government shelling against a civilian neighbourhood'. However the Syrian Government denied shelling civilian areas and, very quickly, UN observers reported that the villagers had been mostly killed at close range. Norwegian General Robert Mood reported that "very few of the people who died in Houla were killed by artillery shelling'.
Following this, the western media story shifted to one of plain clothes government militia (Shabiha) carrying out the murders. Britain's Daily Telegraph blamed "Assad's Death Squads'. As to motive, this paper quoted an opposition source: "They would just break people's arms and legs. They would fight for Bashar to the death. It is natural -- they have to defend their sect' (Alexander and Sherlock 2012).
A warning bell should have sounded here. The Syrian government is strictly secular, and almost obsessively avoids reference to peoples' religion or ethnicity. Both the Government and the Baath Party have members from all groups, even if Alawis (notably President Assad, whose wife is Sunni) have had important leadership roles. The Salafis, on the other hand, are genuinely obsessed with religious affiliation, only recognising certain Sunni sects as "real Muslims'.
A UN investigation was then carried out but, despite the great pressure of the Security Council "finding', was inconclusive. Some witnesses had pointed out that those killed included many Alawi and Shiites, and just a few Sunni people who had been pro-government. Delivering an interim report on 27 June, the Commission presented some rather contradictory conclusions:
"the commission concluded that the government was responsible for the deaths of civilians as a result of shelling the Al Houla area and, particularly, Taldou village ... with regard to the deliberate killing of civilians, the commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators. Nevertheless, it considered that forces loyal to the Government were likely to have been responsible for many of the deaths.' (HRC 2012: 10)
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