On the Syrian Rebel Claims of Yet Another Regime Massacre of Civilians

Hillary Clinton

Once again, as members of the international community came together to discuss means by which to get both sides of the Syrian conflict to end their violence and to negotiate a peaceful way forward, anti-regime forces propagated a claim of yet another massacre immediately repeated by U.S. government officials calling for regime change.

Reuters reports:

More than 200 Syrians, mostly civilians, lost their lives in the Taramseh massacre, opposition activists said. The Revolution Leadership Council of Hama told Reuters the Sunni Muslim villagewas subjected on Thursday to a barrage of heavy weapons fire before pro-government Alawite militiamen swept in and killed victims one by one.

“More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh. They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions,” the regional opposition group said in a statement on Thursday evening.

Syrian state television said three security personnel had been killed in fighting in Taramseh and it accused “armed terrorist groups” of committing a massacre there.

Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, said he had left the town before the reported killing spree but was in touch with residents. “It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling.

“Every family in the town seems to have members killed. We have names of men, women and children from countless families,” he said, adding many of the bodies were taken to a local mosque.

Ahmed, another local activist, told Reuters: “So far, we have 20 victims recorded with names and 60 bodies at a mosque. There are more bodies in the fields, bodies in the rivers and in houses … People were trying to flee from the time the shelling started and whole families were killed trying to escape.”

Of course, as Reuters then points out that “The reports could not be independently confirmed.” But it then adds

Seventy-eight people were shot or stabbed dead or burned alive in the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir, a Sunni hamlet, by fighters of Assad’s Alawite sect on June 6, and 108 men, women and children were massacred in the town of Houla on May 25.

The trouble with this paragraph is that, like with the new massacre, the anti-regime forces’ claims in both of those previous cases could also “not be independently confirmed”. The claims that government forces were responsible for the alleged massacre at Mazraat al-Qubeir—which also happened to occur as talks were underway to further U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan—and the confirmed massacre in Houla relied entirely upon unverified claims of opposition forces, despite evidence it was actually carried out by rebel/terrorist forces, as I’ve written about repeatedly. Both of those instances were also, needless to say, propagated by U.S. government officials as bolstering their case for regime change as they back the rebels in an effort to foment outright civil war.

Another Reuters report relates Kofi Annan’s response to the opposition claims of a massacre:

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday reports of a massacre by Syrian government forces cast “serious doubts” on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s commitment to a UN-backed peace plan.

“I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the indiscriminate use of heavy artillery and shelling of populated areas, including by firing from helicopters,” Ban said in a statement.

“They also cast serious doubts on President Assad’s recent expression of commitment to the six-point plan in his meeting with the Joint Special Envoy,” he said, referring to Assad’s meeting with international envoy Kofi Annan in Damascus on Monday.

And the U.S. response:

Earlier Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage over reports of the Syrian government assault in the rebellious Hama region and urged the UN Security Council to make clear to Damascus that there would be consequences.

Accounts of the attack on the village of Taramseh, including the use of artillery, tanks and helicopters, provide “indisputable evidence that the regime deliberately murdered innocent civilians,” she said….

“History will judge this Council. Its members must ask themselves whether continuing to allow the Assad regime to commit unspeakable violence against its own people is the legacy they want to leave,” Clinton said.

The White House said on Friday that reports of the Taramseh massacre had eliminated any doubt over the need for a coordinated international response.

“Through these repeated efforts, through these repeated acts of violence against the Syrian people, President Assad has lost legitimacy to lead. It is time for him to go,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“We are hopeful that we’ll see continued unity on the international scale to press Assad to leave power.”

Reuters again points out that “There has been no independent account of the battle”, but why would Clinton, et al, care what the actual facts are? They have not made their agenda ambiguous.

Contradictory accounts have already emerged. AFP reported:

Most of the people killed in the Tremsa massacre in central Syria were rebel fighters, an activist said on Friday, adding the bloodbath followed a Free Syrian Army attack on an army convoy.

“At this stage, though we do not yet have the final count, the number of civilians killed by shelling is not more than seven,” Jaafar, an activist at the anti-regime Sham News Network, told AFP. “The rest were members of the (rebel) Free Syrian Army.”

“An army convoy was on its way to the region of Hama when it was attacked by the FSA,” he said. “The army staged a counter-attack with the support of (pro-regime) reinforcements from (nearby) Alawite villages. The FSA resisted for an hour before it was defeated.”

Even the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition exile living in London who has been the go-to guy for Western reporters looking for sensational accounts of what is happening on the ground in Syria, admitted that “Several dozen rebel fighters were among those killed”, and that only 40 of the more than 150 alleged dead had been identified. Thus, even by the opposition’s own reckoning, most of the identified dead were not civilians, but armed rebel fighters, 18 of whom, the opposition claims, were “summarily executed”.

The rebels’ claims of a deliberate government massacre of civilians has thus already been backtracked upon by the opposition themselves, replaced with an entirely different story of executions of armed combatants.  As AFP also pointed out, “activist claims and videos could not be independently verified.”

The BBC also pointed out how the opposition has already changed its story:

Activists initially claimed 200 people including civilians died but later said most of those killed were fighters….

Early accounts from activists said government forces surrounded the village on Thursday in a bid to retake it from the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Troops bombarded Tremseh for several hours before pro-government militias from nearby Alawite villages moved in, killing many more villagers and setting fire to houses, activists said.

Others who tried to flee through fields were also gunned down, they claimed.

But later, activists told the AFP news agency that rebel fighters had attacked an army convoy, but were beaten back and many were killed in a counter-attack.

The BBC adds that “Reports of casualties often cannot be independently verified,” which is true in this case as well. As BBC media analyst Jim Muir points out in the sidebar to that article, “The latest reports of a massacre, at Tremseh, have yet to be documented…”

The Telegraph similarly notes (of course, not until the very end of the article):

Some activists have claimed that women and children were among the victims of the killings, but no video had emerged documenting their deaths. Lists carrying the names of the dead were all of men.

A video showed a line of seventeen bloodied corpses that all young men, most wearing jeans and t-shirts. Most of the people killed were Free Syrian Army fighters that clashed with government troops inside Treimsa before attempting to flee, various activist news networks reported.

But never mind the facts. Syrian government forces have committed another massacre of hundreds of civilians, and we must intervene to overthrow the regime!

For sane commentary of what is going on in Syria, I recommend following Daniel McAdams over at LewRockwell.com and Moon of Alabama. And I’ll continue covering the topic here, of course, so stay tuned.

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