The Houla Massacre as Pretext for Regime Change in Syria

A mass burial in Houla for victims of the May 25 massacre (Reuters)

A mass burial in Houla for victims of the May 25 massacre (Reuters)

FPJ — The Syrian government is being blamed for the massacre in the area of Houla on Friday, May 25, where at least 108 people, including 34 women and 49 children were killed, yet circumstances indicate that rebel forces or terrorist groups with backing from the U.S., NATO, and its regional allies may have actually been responsible, and the atrocity will likely be cited as a pretext in increasing calls for military intervention to overthrow the Assad regime on “humanitarian” grounds.

The Western media have since the beginning of the unrest in Syria relied heavily on anti-regime sources, such as the so-called “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, which is Rami Abdel Rahman operating out of his home in London to relay information (and disinformation) from his sources within (and presumably also without) Syria to the outside world. Even prominent human rights organizations like Amnesty International have been taken in by disinformation propaganda campaigns of anti-regime forces, who are backed by the U.S. and its allies.

The U.S. has been providing to the Syrian opposition what the State Department has called in Orwellian newspeak “nonlethal assistance”, which effort is coordinated with those of U.S. “friends and allies in the region”, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are funding and arming the rebel forces, including with antitank weaponry. The U.S. coordination effort includes directing arms shipments to “worthy rebel recipients”, according to the Washington Post.

According to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. has been providing “communications equipment that will help activists organize, evade attacks by the regime, and connect to the outside world”—the word “activists” here again being used euphemistically, newspeak for “armed rebels”.

The U.S.’s NATO ally Turkey has provided a base of operations for the Free Syrian Army, where they are supplied with surplus weapons from NATO’s campaign to oust the Gaddafi regime in Libya. The arms are “being shipped on NATO aircraft”, according to former CIA military intelligence officer Philip Giraldi. Turkey is “taking the lead as US. proxy”, Giraldi wrote last December, in a clandestine NATO effort with the ultimate goal of another military intervention that would be based on the pretext of “humanitarian principles, to defend the civilian population based on the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine that was invoked to justify Libya.”

As Giraldi also noted at the time, “Syrian government claims that it is being assaulted by rebels who are armed, trained, and financed by foreign governments are more true than false”, that truth of the matter having since been openly admitted by the U.S. government.

Author and journalist Pepe Escobar has also commented on how rebel forces “have access to a wealth of weapons plundered from the Gaddafi’s regimes military depots or gently ‘donated’ by NATO and Qatar.”

And as Daniel McAdams has observed, “as soon as the U.S. began supplying the rebels with specialized communications equipment enabling them to more accurately target government forces and institutions, some of the most deadly and gruesome bombings have taken place.”

According to the U.N., terrorist groups may be responsible for recent bombing attacks, including in Damascus, Hama, Aleppo, Idlib, and Deir al-Zor, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged states to arm neither government nor rebel forces. “The sophistication and size of the bombs point to a high level of expertise, which may indicate the involvement of established terrorist groups,” Ban has said, suggesting that al Qaeda was responsible for two suicide car bombs earlier this month that killed at least 55.

“Those who may contemplate supporting any side with weapons, military training or other military assistance, must reconsider such options to enable a sustained cessation of violence,” said Ban. Alluding to the role of the U.S. and its allies, he added that “The government reportedly continues to receive military equipment and ammunition from other countries, and there are also reports of weapons being sent to opposition forces.”

Back in February, Secretary Clinton cautioned against arming rebel forces. “We really don’t know who it is that would be armed,” she said. “Are we supporting al-Qaeda in Syria?” she asked hypothetically. Such concerns seem to have lost the day as the U.S. has openly sided with al Qaeda in providing material support for the rebels.

The media continues to be taken in by propaganda hoaxes, such as earlier this week when the BBC featured an image alleged to show dead children from the Houla massacre. The BBC ran the image under the headline “Syria massacre in Houla condemned as outrage grows” and with the caption, “This image—which cannot be independently verified—is believed to show the bodies of children in Houla awating burial”.

The photographer who actually took the photo, Marco di Lauro, was shocked to see his image, taken in Iraq, being used without his copyright permission by the BBC, which was provided the photo by opposition members. “What is amazing is that a news organization has a picture proving a massacre that happened yesterday in Syria and instead it’s a picture that was taken in 2003 of a totally different massacre. Someone is using someone else’s picture for propaganda on purpose.” The photo is featured on his website, which explains that the bodies were found in a mass grave outside of Al Musayyib, 40 km south of Baghdad.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, acting as a special envoy for the organization, has attempted to mediate and get both sides to adhere to a peace plan that includes a cease-fire, which has been ignored. The rebels have blamed the violence in Houla on government forces and declared it would no longer commit to the cease-fire if the international community refuses to intervene. “We announce that unless the U.N. Security Council takes urgent steps for the protection of civilians, Annan’s plan is going to hell,” the Free Syrian Army said in a statement.

The Syrian government has denied responsibility for starting the violence and for the massacre of civilians. “We categorically deny the responsibility of government forces in the massacre,” said foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi. “There were no Syrian tanks or artillery in the vicinity,” he said, adding that “Syrian troops retaliated in defense of their positions.” Of the massacre, he stated, “Children, women and other innocent people were killed in their homes, and this is not what the Syrian army does. The method of killing was brutal.” He also said that three soldiers were killed and 16 wounded in the violence that resulted from rebels armed with machine guns, mortars, and antitank missiles attacking government positions.

U.N. observers confirmed that the massacre took place, and also “confirmed from an examination of ordnance that artillery and tank shells were fired at a residential neighborhood.” But the U.N. did not indicate whether the massacred civilians were killed by government this tank and artillery fire. On the contrary, the head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) General Robert Hood said, “The circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear”, and Secretary Ban sent a letter to the Security Council saying that, “while the detailed circumstances are unknown, we can confirm that there has been artillery and mortar shelling. There have also been other forms of violence, including shootings at close range and severe physical abuse” (emphasis added).

On Saturday, the Security Council issued a statement condemning the killings of civilians “in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood” (emphasis added). The statement also called for the cessation of “all violence in all its forms by all parties”.

In its report on the Security Council’s condemnation of the massacre, the New York Times leads readers to the conclusion that government forces were responsible, such as by quoting in the third paragraph German envoy Peter Wittig saying that “The evidence is clear—it is not murky” that “There is a clear government footprint in those killings.” It isn’t until the second half of the article (page 2 in the online edition), that one can read that it hadn’t actually been determined that government forces were responsible, but that “Mr. Ban skated very close to blaming Syrian government shelling for at least some of the deaths while carefully noting that the cause had not been completely determined” (emphasis added).

In the next paragraph, the Times adds, “The Russians seemed to be swayed by the arguments that it made little sense that the opposition, which is heavily Sunni Muslim, or even extremist jihadist elements, would kill so many of their own faith in cold blood, said one Security Council diplomat, speaking anonymously about a closed-door session.”

Yet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that while there was “no doubt that the government used artillery and tanks”, there was “also no doubt that many bodies have been found with injuries from firearms received at point-blank range. So the blame must be determined objectively.” He concluded, “We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people.”

An early draft of the Security Council statement directly blamed the Syrian government, but it was the Russians who insisted that the Council first be briefed in a closed hearing with UNSMIS chief Gen. Robert Hood, and as already noted, the statement that emerged did not directly pin responsibility for the massacre on government forces.

Syrian government forces may have committed the atrocity, but the alternative possibility—unmentioned in mainstream media reports that rely heavily on accounts from Western government officials and rebel sources benefiting from Western support—that terrorist groups directly or indirectly funded and armed by the U.S. and its allies were primarily responsible for the murders cannot at this point be ruled out.

Ultimately, whoever was mainly responsible, the atrocity will undoubtedly be cited as a pretext in escalating calls for another NATO military intervention to overthrow another regime insufficiently willing to accommodate Washington’s interests in the region.

As former NATO commander General Wesley Clark explained in a talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, California, on October 3, 2007, after 9/11, there was a “policy coup” in which the long-term goals of the neoconservatives were implemented. Clark was an inside witness to the efforts to use 9/11 as a pretext to launch the war on Iraq, despite the complete lack of evidence of any Iraqi involvement in the attacks or possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But the plan didn’t stop with Iraq.

Clark recalled a discussion with an officer in the Defense Department who showed him a memo he had received from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office. “It says we’re going to attack and destroy the governments in seven countries in five years—we’re going to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran,” Clark recalled the officer telling him. He explained to his audience that the foreign policy goal of the U.S. was “to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control.”

Taking out the Assad regime in Syria, in addition to being a goal in its own right, would also be another step towards implementing the ultimate goal of regime change in Iran, which would be further isolated by the loss of its regional ally.

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