Reconsidering the Houla massacre

(Update below)

A new report in Germany’s leading daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), is gathering attention among those who view with suspicion most other reports on Syria being published in the Western media.

The report claims that the Houla massacre in which 108 people died on May 25 was not committed by members of the pro-Assad Shabiha but was in fact carried out by anti-Assad Sunni militants and that nearly all the victims were members of the Alawi and Shia minorities.

Moon of Alabama writes:

While I do not agree with the FAZ’s general editorial positions, I have followed Rainer Hermann reports for years. In my view he is an very reliable and knowledgeable reporter who would not have written the above if he had doubts or no additional confirmation about what he was told by the opposition members he talked to.

In a translation appearing at National Review, Hermann refers to eyewitness accounts, saying:

Those killed were almost exclusively from families belonging to Houla’s Alawi and Shia minorities. Over 90% of Houla’s population are Sunnis. Several dozen members of a family were slaughtered, which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam.

Earlier reports, including one from Human Rights Watch which interviewed surviving relatives of the families, said that 62 of the dead belonged to Abdel Razzak family with Reuters reporting that this was a Sunni family. Hermann’s report provides no family names but asserts that almost none of those killed were Sunnis.

In the absence of any additional information, I’m inclined to still believe the original reports.

Who’s running with the Hermann report?, National Review, Global Research, Moon of Alabama, DEBKA File, American Thinker, and Lew Rockwell — a curious amalgam of the left, right, and libertarian.

Update: Human Rights Watch confirmed to me that the Abdel Razzak family are indeed Sunnis and that after the massacre those members of the family who survived sought the protection of the Free Syrian Army.

Even before the FAZ report appeared, rumors had started circulating that the victims of the massacre were converts to Shiism and thus HRW asked residents of Houla (including survivors from the Abdel Razzak family) about these allegations but they all denied them and said that all those killed from that family were Sunnis. The majority of the victims of the massacre were from the Abdel Razzak family.

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  1. Patrick Cummins says

    “Who’s running with the Hermann report?, National Review, Global Research, Moon of Alabama, DEBKA File, American Thinker, and Lew Rockwell — a curious amalgam of the left, right, and libertarian. ”

    Perhaps. But the most important question is whether the Hermann report is accurate. If it is, as seems likely, then many governments across the West will be very embarassed. Look then for a big effort to find ways to cast doubt on this report.

  2. Patrick — you are right: whether the Hermann report is accurate is indeed the key question. And that’s why I contacted Human Rights Watch to see if they had any additional relevant information. What they told me (see the update above) provides further reason to doubt the accuracy of the Hermann report. Moreover, since even before the Hermann report had appeared, HRW was already investigating the question as to whether victims of the massacre were converts to Shiism, I don’t think that their findings should be viewed as part of a big effort to cast doubt on the German report. Rather, it appears that Hermann was simply repeating rumors which HRW had already investigated and found to be baseless.

  3. La vérité says

    With all due respect, I have to say, HRW has not always got things right or have made judgement errors. Claiming there was no massacre in Jenin in 2002 when the Israeli govt had sealed the area for days after the Battle was over and no independent observer or humanitarian organisation was allowed, that claim was erroneous.

    Also, accusing Palestinian Women of being Human Shields in 2006 when they were non-violently trying to protect their men was rather ridiculous.

    UN published a report in February stating both sides were committing atrocities ( though the govt at a major scale ).

    There is another blog by a very respected blogger which discusses the issue..

    And another story with latest report from UN ….

    Assad’s govt has committed horrible crimes. At the same time, we know, someone like Chalabi of Iraqi opposition group lied. So, imho, one needs to take opposition claims with some scepticism.Unfortunately, with the Western powers pursuing the goal of Regime change and arming the opposition instead of trying to reduce the violence by demanding of BOTH sides to curtail their atrocities and stop the violence, situation will only get worse which is already horrible. Very sad for Syria, indeed.

  4. A British journalist also reported that the rebels also attempted to have him killed as a propaganda stunt. Remember the odd case of Marie Colvin, another journalist, who was smuggled into Syria by the rebels and ended up dead. Who was blamed? Assad. Was this another setup? Qui bono?

  5. There’s a substantive question here: were the majority of the victims of the Houla massacre Sunnis or not? HRW is not simply repeating opposition claims. They interviewed survivors and accumulated evidence from multiple sources showing that this was a massacre of Sunnis. Is there evidence that they were not Sunnis? HRW investigated the question about whether victims were converts to Shiism and concluded that they were not. The reports I have seen which contradict this conclusion do so while providing little to no evidence to back up their claim.

  6. dmaak112 says

    The push to intervene in Syria’s civil war is the central spin of Western media outlets. That the dictatorship of Bashar al-Asad requires US action when our history is replete with supporting one dictator or king or autocrat after another begs the question. If democracy is our calling how about Bahrain or Qatar or Saudi Arabia? But those questions are seldom addressed. How about just paying for one of our wars that the government, politicians and media push down our throats? When it comes to dropping bombs, we have no concern. Perhaps if we paid for these wars we would be more circumspect in interfering in other nations’ business.

  7. “There’s a substantive question here: were the majority of the victims of the Houla massacre Sunnis or not? ”
    That is not really a very important question. The important question is who did the massacre and why. Since Syria has been flooded with fighters come over from Iraq – whose modus operandi was to blow up a car in a crowded market and then blame the Americans for not maintaining security – they are not going to be particularly fussy who they kill, provided it supplies results.

    No-one can operate independently in Syria, you are either embedded with the Government or embedded with the Free Syrian Army. If HRW, an unacknowledged arm of the US Government since its inception, is able to visit Houla it is essentially embedded in the Free Syrian Army while it does so.