Published on 1 Jun 2012

The battle for truth in Damascus

It is a matter of some regret that the Syrian government press conference yesterday was held so late in the day that I could not be there.

Clearly it was some spectacle. Not since the dying days of the Saddam regime in Baghdad and the primetime performances of “Comical Ali” have we heard such arrant nonsense coming from a government mouthpiece. In fact, several government mouthpieces.

Let me personally assure the Syrian government of some fact. Facts which are from my own direct experience.

I was in Houla for several hours on Sunday 27 May, in the middle of the day. During that time I saw three tracked armoured personnel carriers being deployed during several different firefights in the vicinity of our position with Syrian forces.

Whilst the Syrian army could go some way to stop us from filming what was happening, they could do nothing to prevent my noting, observing and remembering what was happening, and where it happened.

On several different occasions these APCs – the soldiers referred to them as “BMVs” – were deployed to attack presumably rebel positions in Houla. Each is mounted with a large single-barrel heavy gun on the top. I’m afraid I am no military anorak and can say little more by way of description.

On several occasions I personally witnessed these heavy weapons fire into positions in the town.

But don’t take my word for it. The deputy head of the UN monitoring mission to Syria told me they were used close to the UN convoy’s position that day a little nearer to the centre of Houla.

Martin Griffith told me, as we spoke later that day on the outskirts of the town: “Our progress was slowed down a little when a Syrian army vehicle passed close to our position and fired two rounds. That, of course, started a firefight.”

Further, the government statement that the massacre at Houla was carried out by 6-700 militia with “heavy weapons” might be true but it certainly begs some important questions.

How come everyone in Houla who witnessed some of what went on puts the number at around 100?


Equally, nobody in Houla mentions the killers using any kind of heav weapon at all. Certainly not rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, and, still less, artillery and cannon of any description.

For the people, the victims, it is just guns – by which they mean Kalashnikovs – and knives. If the Syrian government says it had heavy weapons, why does it also say most of the people were shot at close range?

Most ludicrous of all, why does the government claim that a lot of the bodies are those of the perpetrators them selves? Why would they simply be buried alongside the victims and treated just the same way? Would they not have any kind of ID displayed on YouTube almost before the guns had fallen silent?

And in any case, are we seriously supposed to believe that the Syrian government permits militias to wander around its territory using heavy weapons and that it either cannot or will not do anything to stop it?

If so, Damascus and the Assad regime is clearly a lot closer to falling than anybody could possibly have realised. If so…

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4 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    I am a little confused here.

    Every mainstream media outlet, including C4 News, has reported about 20 victims of over 100 were killed by artillery fire, i.e “heavy weapons.” The reports also say the remaining victims of this dreadful atrocity were killed at close range by either guns or knives. If true, this would SEEM to explain why the Syrian government says (your words) “…most of the people were shot at close range.” That SEEMS to be consistent, not “ludicrous” (your word again).

    Furthermore, IF the murder gang WAS “around 100” that would explain how they were able to move around with less chance of detection. But of course that would not explain the Syrian government’s claim that the number was 600-700 – though crude reactionary propaganda would.

    Nor do I understand your query “…are we seriously supposed to believe that the Syrian government permits militias to wander around its territory using heavy weapons…” – the answer to that of course is No. The problem is I have seen no such claim on any news outlet.

    Of course there is no doubt at all that the innocents killed by artillery fire were the victims of the Syrian regime and its armed forces. This is a brutal war crime and whoever ordered it should face the full weight of democratic justice.

    But the central questions here are: Who were the murder gang and who gave them the orders? If they were indeed from adjoining villages then it shouldn’t be difficult to identify them. If they cannot be identified, then where is the proof that the murderers did not originate elsewhere?

    These are unanswered at the time of writing.Until we get provable facts the whole disgusting, evil episode reeks with suspicion.

  2. wondering says:

    There are 5000 refugees nearby in Burj al-Qa’i looked after by the ICRC. Did you check them out? They fled from Taldou the night of the massacre. Why did they flee and why did the people you interviewed stay?

  3. Question All says:

    “Martin Griffith told me, as we spoke later that day on the outskirts of the town: “Our progress was slowed down a little when a Syrian army vehicle passed close to our position and fired two rounds. That, of course, started a firefight.””

    The above UN spokesman’s eye-witness account suggests that the Syrian Army were indeed firing upon enemy (‘rebel’) positions. The fire was returned.

    It doesn’t take a ‘military anorak’ to extrapolate from the above statement that two sets of combatants were engaged in a battle with each other. Who fired the first shots is largely irrelevant in what is an ongoing war situation. A sovereign government is being destabilised from within and without, it is responding in kind. War is bloody, atrocities are committed on all sides, tell us something we don’t know.

    The question is how to stop the war in Syria and prevent western warmongers and the ‘regime changers’ of Arab dictatorships like Qatar and Saudi Arabia from further military adventurism?

  4. Matt Cusumano says:

    I don’t understand why you feel the Syrian government’s claims are ridiculous….Most of the victims were killed with knives…that’s silent work, undertaken behind closed doors….It sounds to me that when people are killed by the Syrian Government they are killed by artillery, tank fire, heavy weapons…a subject on which you seem to concur, so doesn’t that make the “official” Syrian government explanation consistent? Obviously somebody was being shelled, or chased, and decided to murder everyone they came in contact with, will they were under fire, knowing that in the ensuing confusion, the western media would do what they do best, blame it all on Assad, personally.
    Try to look beyond the obvious. As Cui Bono more often. The Syrian government is going to try to avoid all the bad press they can. They know what it brings, which is more headaches for them. They are not going to murder a bunch of uninvolved innocents in the manner seen recently.
    Please, use your head, and stop spreading U.S. State Department Propaganda. You’d think after Libya the Press might not be so incredibly pliable….or are you still calling Libya a “victory for Democracy”?

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