PHOTO Two fighters, shown standing on the bodies of women, after the rebel advance into the village of Zara in Homs Province on Thursday
- Pictures: Darayya Residents Protest to UN Over Blocked Aid
- Reports: Islamic State Attacks Regime in Deir ez-Zor City
- Hezbollah’s Conflicting Accounts About Killing of Its Top Commander
The military significance of a victory in northern Homs Province by Syria’s rebels has been overtaken by a propaganda battle over what exactly happened.
The Assad regime and rebels put out sharply different versions of the capture of Zara. The confusion was compounded by the spreading of rumors by a British-based “monitoring group”, widely used without scepticism by mainstream media.
The rebel factions Ahrar al-Sham and Ajnad al-Sham, alongside the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra, launched a sudden offensive in northern Homs on Thursday. They hoped to connect pockets of opposition-held territory, under bombardment and siege by pro-Assad forces since 2012.
Within hours, they had moved into Zara and reopened a link between the towns of Houla and Rastan. If the offensive continues, it would add another challenge to the Assad regime and its foreign allies, who have also been pushed back in southern Aleppo Province and suffered heavy casualties since early April.
However, the focus shifted almost immediately to a claim that many civilians had been killed and abducted by the rebels as the Syrian army fled the village. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a small British-based operation which claims a “network” of sources on the ground, fed the story. Pro-regime accounts headlined “120” who had been executed or disappeared.
The Differing Accounts
On Friday, the pro-regime outlets pressed their version with three photographs of rebels with the dead. Whether those killed were civilians or Syrian military was unclear in two, but fighters were standing in another on the bloody bodies of two women, supporting the assertion of the execution of innocents.
Meanwhile, State media broadcast interviews which were purportedly with survivors of the the attack. One claimed that the rebels entered at dawn “while its people were sleeping, raided homes and killed children, women and elderly in a brutal manner”. He said his mother, aunt, and sons were among the victims of an assault which included “PKC machine guns, laser sniper rifles, and RPG shells”.
Another survivor said “around ten families” are missing and possibly executed, while a third claimed that somehow the Syrian Army was able to re-enter Zara and evacuate the injured.
The Jaish al-Fatah rebel bloc put out a response on Friday afternoon to the gathering claims. It said that the mayor and a number of “shabiha” (pro-Assad militia) had been executed.
Just before the Jaish al-Fatah statement, a BBC reporter said — from a “usually reliable source” — that the mayor and his families had been killed while some civilians may have been seized.
The Homs Operations Room, which is coordinating the rebel offensive, followed with a specific response to the one solid piece of evidence of civilian deaths. It said that the two women had been killed after they fired on rebels, killing one fighter. While maintaining that the deaths were “lawful”, the Operations Room said the fighters who posed with the bodies would be punished for degrading the victims.
Neither statement made any reference to civilians executed or abducted from the village.
The opposition Local Coordination Committees issued a statement condemning the attacks. It said that, while some in Zara are “part of Assad’s formal or informal troops…and committing many sectarian crimes”, this “does not justify committing any murder or arresting [abduction]”.
Meanwhile, international media are continuing to rely on the unconfirmed assertions of the Syrian Observatory. Reuters headlines that at least 19 civilians were killed. It offers support from the interviews on Syrian State media but also notes that rebels have denied the claims.
Pro-regime accounts are putting up another obstacle to any confirmation with false or misleading photographs. In one case, they have reposted an image from a mass killing of civilians by the Syrian army, in Baniyas in 2013, as the bodies of the “executed” in Zara.
Pictures: Darayya Residents Protest to UN Over Blocked Aid
Residents of Darayya have posted photographs of their protests to the UN over the failure to deliver aid to the besieged town, southwest of Damascus:
The Syrian military suddenly refused the entry of a five-truck convoy on Thursday, after the UN had gotten the Assad regime’s assent following long, arduous discussions. Pro-Assad forces then shelled people waiting for the delivery, killing a father and son and injuring five other residents.
Reports on Saturday say shelling has continued and there are claims that the Syrian military is trying to break into the town, which has been blockaded since November 2012.
Reports: Islamic State Attacks Regime in Deir ez-Zor City
The Islamic State is reportedly attacking regime forces in Deir ez-Zor city in eastern Syria.
The pro-opposition Local Coordination Committees, citing local sources, say ISIS has taken Assad hospital (see map) and granaries after advancing in the Baghilia neighborhood. The offensive include mortar fire and a car bomb against an army position.
ISIS also claims to have taken a fuel storage facility, part of Fourat University, the Panorama Roundabout, and hills and neighborhoods.
— WorldOnAlert (@worldonalert) May 14, 2016
The Islamic State has surrounded about 200,000 people in Deir ez-Zor since 2014. In January 2016, it briefly took northern suburbs of the city before being pushed back by the Syrian army, aided by Russian airstrikes.
Hezbollah’s Conflicting Accounts About Killing of Its Top Commander
Hezbollah has put out conflicting accounts of the killing of its top commander in Syria, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, on Thursday night.
The Lebanese organization said in a statement that Badreddine, central to its operations since 1983, was killed by artillery fire from “jihadists”:
Investigations have showed that the explosion, which targeted one of our bases near Damascus International Airport, and which led to the martyrdom of commander Mustafa Badreddine, was the result of artillery bombardment carried out by takfiri groups in the area.
However, Elijah J Magnier of the al-Rai newspaper, who often posts claims based on Hezbollah sources, is insisting that Israel killed Badreddine with a missile.
And in a further provocative claim, Magnier says that the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, was in a meeting with Badreddine only a half-hour before the attack.