Excerpts from important, revealing, articles on Syria:
Syria: The hidden massacre
May 7, 2014, Sharmine Narwani, RT.com
“The attack took place shortly after the first stirrings of trouble in the southern Syrian city of Daraa in March 2011.
Several old Russian-made military trucks packed with Syrian security forces rolled onto a hard slope on a valley road between Daraa al-Mahata and Daraa al-Balad. Unbeknown to the passengers, the sloping road was slick with oil poured by gunmen waiting to ambush the troops.
Brakes were pumped as the trucks slid into each other, but the shooting started even before the vehicles managed to roll to a stop. According to several different opposition sources, up to 60 Syrian security forces were killed that day in a massacre that has been hidden by both the Syrian government and residents of Daraa.
But even more startling than actually finding the 19 Daraa soldiers on a list, was the discovery that in April 2011, eighty-eight soldiers were killed by unknown shooters in different areas across Syria.
Keep in mind that the Syrian army was mostly not in the field that early on in the conflict. Other security forces like police and intelligence groups were on the front lines then – and they are not included in this death toll.
The first Syrian soldiers to be killed in the conflict, Sa’er Yahya Merhej and Habeel Anis Dayoub, were killed on March 23 in Daraa.
Two days after those first military casualties, Ala’a Nafez Salman was gunned down in Latakia.
On April 9, Ayham Mohammad Ghazali was shot dead in Douma, south of Damascus. The first soldier killing in Homs Province – in Teldo – was on April 10 when Eissa Shaaban Fayyad was shot.
April 10 was also the day when we learned of the first massacre of Syrian soldiers – in Banyas, Tartous – when nine troops were ambushed and gunned down on a passing bus.
After the Banyas slayings, soldier deaths in April continued to pop up in different parts of the country – Moadamiyah, Idlib, Harasta, al-Masmiyah (near Suweida), Talkalakh and the suburbs of Damascus.
But on April 23, seven soldiers were slaughtered in Nawa, a town near Daraa. Those killings did not make the headlines like the one in Banyas. Notably, the incident took place right after the Syrian government tried to defuse tensions by abolishing the state security courts, lifting the state of emergency, granting general amnesties and recognizing the right to peaceful protest.
Two days later, on April 25 – Easter Monday – Syrian troops finally moved into Daraa. In what became the scene of the second mass slaying of soldiers since the weekend, 19 soldiers were shot dead that day.
This information also never made it to the headlines.”
…the April 10 shootings of the nine soldiers on a bus in Banyas was an unprovoked ambush. So, for instance, was the killing of General Abdo Khodr al-Tallawi, killed alongside his two sons and a nephew in Homs on April 17. That same day in the pro-government al-Zahra neighborhood in Homs, off-duty Syrian army commander Iyad Kamel Harfoush was gunned down when he went outside his home to investigate gunshots. Two days later, Hama-born off-duty Colonel Mohammad Abdo Khadour was killed in his car. And all of this only in the first month of unrest.
In 2012, HRW’s Syria researcher Ole Solvag told me that he had documented violence “against captured soldiers and civilians” and that “there were sometimes weapons in the crowds and some demonstrators opened fire against government forces.”
Syrian-based Father Frans van der Lugt was the Dutch priest murdered by a gunman in Homs just a few weeks ago. His involvement in reconciliation and peace activities never stopped him from lobbing criticisms at both sides in this conflict. But in the first year of the crisis, he penned some remarkable observations about the violence – this one in January 2012:
“From the start the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”
In September 2011 he wrote: “From the start there has been the problem of the armed groups, which are also part of the opposition…The opposition of the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality and violence, only in order then to blame the government.”
Certainly, by June 5, there was no longer any ability for opposition groups to pretend otherwise. In a coordinated attack in Jisr Shughur in Idlib, armed groups killed 149 members of the security forces
Discussion about the role of provocateurs in stirring up conflict has made some headlines since Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet’s leaked phone conversation with the EU’s Catherine Ashton disclosed suspicions that pro-west snipers had killed both Ukranian security forces and civilians during the Euromaidan protests.
Says Paet: “All the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides…and it’s really disturbing that now the new (pro-western) coalition, they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.” “
Surprise Video Changes Syria “Timeline”
Apr 4, 2012, Sharmine Narwani, al Akhbar
Of all the myths obstructing the honest portrayal of events in Syria this past year, none has been more fiercely guarded by regime-change advocates than this one stark falsehood:
Myth – the Syrian regime has only been shooting unarmed, peaceful protestors until very recently when opposition groups finally decided to arm themselves in self-defense.
Jihadist web chatter about armed groups in Syria, suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, and now Al Qaeda’s “call to battle” have forced western pundits – who know a red line when they see one – to grudgingly acknowledge there are two sides in Syria’s violent tug of war.
Quite suddenly, this has forced a shift in the discourse on Syria. Regime opponents have taken care, however, to ensure that the new narrative incorporates the existence of armed groups without challenging the core premise that “the regime massacres peaceful protestors.”
This effectively means that armed opposition can only be introduced into the Syrian crisis “timeline” at a date long after the outbreak of protests.
Consequently, it is only in early 2012 that references to armed militias have trickled into the media marketplace – and always in the context of a carefully scripted storyline which misleadingly claims – as in this February New York Times opinion piece: “the resistance” has only “now begun to arm itself and to exercise self-defense.”
Al Jazeera’s Shaping of the Syrian Story
Ali Hashem’s resignation from Al Jazeera last month may not have raised an eyebrow in normal circumstances. But the Beirut-based correspondent was one of a number of Al Jazeera employees whose hacked-and-leaked emails displayed a growing dissatisfaction with their satellite network’s biased coverage of Syria.
His exit from the troubled media company is eclipsed, however, by the bombshell he is about to drop.
Hashem claims Al Jazeera refused to air footage of dozens of armed gunmen engaging with targets inside Syrian territory in May 2011. He and his crew, Hashem reports, also witnessed armed groups entering Syria three weeks earlier, in April 2011, but were only able to capture them on film in May. Some of the weapons they sighted included Kalashnikovs and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs).
But now Hashem reveals that he has in hand the actual censored video footage of opposition gunmen engaged in clashes in Syria last May and that it will be broadcast later this week.
During a brief preview of the footage on his iPad in a Beirut cafe, the veteran journalist explains: “I have both the footage which Al Jazeera refused to air and footage of the segment that was broadcast. On air, I am telling viewers that I am witnessing armed men clashing with the Syrian army, though what you read on Al Jazeera’s screen says something entirely different. This is in the Talkalakh area on the Syrian-Lebanese border, on the Syrian side. You can see the militants shooting in the video. And when you do a comparison of the two videos, you can see they are in the same place.”
Below is a still shot from Hashem’s exclusive footage showing gunmen operating inside Syria in May 2011:
“Ensa enno fee masallaheen”
The value of the newsworthy footage was not lost on Hashem and his crew, so he was surprised when Al Jazeera’s then-acting head of news told him via phone “ensa enno fee masallaheen” or “forget there are armed men.”
Hashem refused, and a heated defense of professional reporting ethics ensued until he was assured that he could speak freely on the air. He did – but Al Jazeera did not broadcast the accompanying footage of gunmen while Hashem was on air describing them. The network later insisted that it was a genuine “mistake.”
An Eyewitness to the Syrian Rebellion: Father Frans in His Own Words
April 19, 2014, John Rosenthal, The BRICS Post
Father Frans was murdered under still unclarified circumstances in the embattled Syrian city of Homs earlier this month.
Opposition sources have blamed the Syrian government for his death. But it is widely believed that Father Frans was killed by hard-line Islamist members of one of the rebel factions that have taken control of his Bustan al-Diwan neighborhood in Homs.
The texts of Father Frans, who had lived in Syria since 1966, provide an eyewitness account of the origins of the anti-Assad rebellion and the gradual hardening of the front between opposing rebel and government forces in Homs.
in a letter published in January 2012 on the Dutch-Flemish Mediawerkgroep Syrië website, Father Frans wrote:
From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.
In the same letter, Father Frans insisted that what was occurring in Syria could not be described as a “popular uprising,” since the majority of Syrians do not support the opposition and “certainly not” its armed component.
Already in September 2011, Father Frans had made similar observations in a guest post on a Belgian blog, going so far as to accuse armed opposition groups of blaming the regime for their own acts of violence.
Having noted the splintering of the opposition among Islamists, “liberals and democrats”, communists and so on, Father Frans continued:
Moreover, from the start there has been the problem of the armed groups, which are also part of the opposition….The opposition of the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality and violence, only in order then to blame the government. Many representatives of the government [regeringsmensen – Father Frans might also be referring to supporters of the government] have been tortured and shot dead by them.
“Personally,” Father Frans concluded, “I expect little good to come from the opposition, which, moreover, has been instigated and paid by foreign interests.”
“Personally,” he wrote in September 2011, “I think this government has to stay, despite all difficulties, and proceed along the path of reforms.”
In his January 2012 letter, he outlined a similar course of action, noting that the current government is “perhaps more democratic than possible replacements.”
In particular, he regarded the current regime as the best guarantee against the spread of sectarian violence in Syria.
Father Frans did not spare the Western media, which he accused of distortion and bias.
In September 2011 he wrote that he was disturbed by Western coverage of the Syrian crisis because there was “never a good word” published about the current government.
He said that Western media blamed the Syrian government “for things that it had not done”. He went on:
Our experience with the government has not been so negative. In my case, they always helped my projects and supported my idea of being of service to Sunnis and Alawites. They wanted an ever greater separation of church and state and were enthusiastic about projects that were non-denominational.
According to the Dutch daily de Volkskrant, the help provided by the Syrian government to Father Frans included a grant of over 100 acres of land for the Father’s agricultural projects.
Father Frans told APIC that ninety percent of the Christian population of Homs had already fled the city, because of the fighting.
“They were not chased out by the Sunni militias,” Father Frans took care to add, “This needs to be emphasized! The Syrian army was first driven from the neighborhood by the FSA and now it’s the FSA that is being bombed.”
In his contribution to Streven, Father Frans wrote about the futility of the army’s bombing campaign and its disastrous effects upon the remaining Christian population:
…[T]he only result is that many Christian homes and also churches…have been bombed and partially or wholly destroyed, while the soldiers of the Free [Syrian] Army remain unharmed. The latter hide in the cellars of the Christian homes to protect themselves from the bombing.
Nonetheless, Father Frans remained clear about where he believed the ultimate responsibility for the disaster lay. “There is no excusing the fact,” he wrote, “that the Free Syrian Army has taken the Christian neighborhoods in order to use them as a battlefield for combating the government army.”