The Observer reports: A senior Syrian military officer has described how he defected to opposition forces after witnessing hundreds of pro-regime militiamen carry out the now infamous massacre of more than 100 civilians in the town of Houla one week ago.
The account of Major Jihad Raslan comes as the United Nations’ special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, yesterday warned of an increasing risk of imminent war in Syria. “The spectre of an all-out war with an alarming sectarian dimension grows by the day,” Annan told an Arab League gathering.
His concerns follow warnings delivered on Friday by the United States, Britain and the UN Human Rights Council, which voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Syrian regime for the Houla killings.
The killing of so many civilians, among them 49 children and at least 20 women, continues to galvanise international anger against regime officials and their loyalist militias, which have widely been blamed for what took place.
Raslan served until last Saturday in the Syrian Air Force in the strategically vital port city of Tartous. He had been in Houla on leave when the town was shelled just after 1pm last Friday, then invaded by a civilian militia, known as the Shabiha, in the worst single atrocity of the Syrian uprising.
The officer’s account to the Observer of what took place is among the most important of the testimonies to have emerged since the massacre, the aftermath of which appears to be causing fresh turmoil inside Syria 16 months after the first stirrings of revolt inspired by the Arab spring.
Raslan said he was in his house, around 300 metres from the site of the first massacre in the village of Taldous, when several hundred men whom he knew to be Shabiha members rode into town in cars and army trucks and on motorbikes.
“A lot of them were bald and many had beards,” he said. “Many wore white sports shoes and army pants. They were shouting: ‘Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad.’ It was very obvious who they were.
“We used to be told that armed groups killed people and the Free Syria Army burned down houses,” he said. “They lied to us. Now I saw what they did with my own eyes.”
He said the killings in his area were over in around 15 minutes. However, the rampage in other parts of Houla continued until the early hours of Saturday, according to eye-witnesses and survivors.
“Those victims who were slaughtered are people that I knew well,” Raslan said. “These children I knew well, personally. I ate with their families. I had social ties with them. The regime cannot lie about these people, who they were and what they did to them. It was a brutal act by the regime against people who were with the revolution,” he said.
Raslan said that he served on a missile base in Tartous, removed from the grinding everyday savagery of Syria’s uprising. “I knew they had been lying, but I had not been exposed to the effects of it. This was the first time I had seen anything like this.”