Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the German newspaper that has the largest international circulation, published a sketchy report by Rainer Hermann on Friday that attributed responsibility for the massacre in Syria to anti-Assad militants in Syria.[1]  --  A translation of the article by an Austrian blogger is posted below (with a few silent stylistic improvements).[2]  --  Meanwhile the Houla massacre continues to be attributed to Syrian authorities by media sources like the London Daily Mail and Arutz Sheva, sometimes called the voice of the Israeli settlement movement, which extended blame for the massacre to Iran (e.g. "All this adds up to one, and only one thing:  Iran, and Iran alone, is responsible for every murderous genocidal slaughter act Assad has committed, and will commit.  Hence, Iran is already 'all in' on defending Assad, and will stop at nothing -- nothing -- to defend Assad’s regime")....


The Corner

New insights into deaths of Houla


By John Rosenthal

National Review Online
June 9, 2012

It was, in the words of U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, the “tipping point” in the Syria conflict:  a savage massacre of over 90 people, predominantly women and children, for which the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was immediately blamed by virtually the entirety of the Western media.  Within days of the first reports of the Houla massacre, the U.S., France, Great Britain, Germany, and several other Western countries announced that they were expelling Syria’s ambassadors in protest.

But according to a new report in Germany’s leading daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the Houla massacre was in fact committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and the bulk of the victims were member of the Alawi and Shia minorities, which have been largely supportive of Assad.  For its account of the massacre, the report cites opponents of Assad, who, however, declined to have their names appear in print out of fear of reprisals from armed opposition groups.

According to the article’s sources, the massacre occurred after rebel forces attacked three army-controlled roadblocks outside of Houla. The roadblocks had been set up to protect nearby Alawi majority villages from attacks by Sunni militias.  The rebel attacks provoked a call for reinforcements by the besieged army units.  Syrian army and rebel forces are reported to have engaged in battle for some 90 minutes, during which time “dozens of soldiers and rebels” were killed.

“According to eyewitness accounts,” the FAZ report continues, "the massacre occurred during this time.  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.  Members of the Shomaliya, an Alawi family, were also killed, as was the family of a Sunni member of the Syrian parliament who is regarded as a collaborator.  Immediately following the massacre, the perpetrators are supposed to have filmed their victims and then presented them as Sunni victims in videos posted on the internet."

The FAZ report echoes eyewitness accounts collected from refugees from the Houla region by members of the Monastery of St. James in Qara, Syria.  According to monastery sources cited by the Dutch Middle East expert Martin Janssen, armed rebels murdered “entire Alawi families” in the village of Taldo in the Houla region.

Already at the beginning of April, Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix of the St. James Monastery warned of rebel atrocities’ being repackaged in both Arab and Western media accounts as regime atrocities.  She cited the case of a massacre in the Khalidiya neighborhood in Homs.  According to an account published in French on the monastery’s website, rebels gathered Christian and Alawi hostages in a building in Khalidiya and blew up the building with dynamite.  They then attributed the crime to the regular Syrian army.  “Even though this act has been attributed to regular army forces . . . the evidence and testimony are irrefutable:  It was an operation undertaken by armed groups affiliated with the opposition,” Mother Agnès-Mariam wrote.

— John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at or on Facebook.




By Rainer Hermann

** In Syria, in another massacre near Hama at least 55 people were killed. U.N. observers who wanted to visit the crime scene came under gunfire. **

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
June 7, 2012 [German original]

DAMASCUS -- At least 55 people were killed in a massacre in the village Qubair near Hama in Syria.  Activists of the Local Coordination Committee reported even 86 fatalities.  Eighteen of the dead are women and children.  Many were burned to death in their homes or were stabbed with knives.  Most of the dead were members of one family.  While the rebels accused the regime militias of murder, the state television made a “terrorist group” responsible for the massacre.

The U.N. observers stationed in Hama wanted to visit Qubair on Thursday.  The U.N. observers reported that the Syrian army prevented their access to Qubair.  The head of the U.N. observers, General Robert Mood, said that civilians were also blocking the observers.  The observers were told, that their safety would not be guaranteed if they should enter the village.  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon later on said at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, the observers had been under fire.  He called the massacre “shocking and disgusting” and said that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad had “lost all legitimacy.”

At first glance the massacre looks similar to the one in Houla, where 108 people were killed on May 25.  In the past few days Syrian opposition figures who come from the region have been able to reconstruct the probable course of events in Houla from credible witness reports.  The result contradicts rebel claims that Shabiha militias, shielded by the Syrian army, committed the atrocity.  The sources don’t want to have their names disclosed, because opposition figures who oppose violence have been murdered or at least threatened.

The Houla massacre took place after Friday prayers.  Fighting started, when Sunni insurgents attacked the three army checkpoints around Houla.  The checkpoints have the purpose of protecting the Alawite villages around the predominantly Sunni Houla against attacks.

One attacked checkpoint called army units from a nearby military base for reinforcement.  Dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed in the ensuing battles, which lasted about ninety minutes, and the three villages of Houla were completely cut off from the outside world during the fighting.

According to the eyewitnesses, the massacre occurred during this period.  Targeted were almost exclusively families of Houla’s Alawite and Shiite minority.  More than 90 percent of Houla’s population are Sunni.  For instance, several dozen members of a family that in recent years converted to Shiite Islam were slaughtered.  Killed were also members of the Alawite Shomaliya family and the family of a Sunni member of parliament, who was considered a collaborator.  The perpetrators filmed their victims immediately after the massacre, declared them to be Sunni victims, and distributed the videos via the Internet.  Representatives of the Syrian government confirmed this version, but pointed out that the government had agreed not to speak publicly about Alawites versus Sunnis.  President Bashar al-Assad is a member of the Alawites, the opposition is supported mainly by the Sunni majority.

Meanwhile, Syrian expatriate businessmen in Qatar’s capital Doha established a $300 million fund to finance the Syrian opposition and the rebels.  Mustafa Sabbagh, president of the Syrian Business Forum in exile, represented the Fund.  Wael Mirza, Secretary General of the opposition Syrian National Council, said that half of the amount has already been spent and partly directed to the FSA (Free Syrian Army).

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, called for an international conference about Syria, with all the countries influencing actors in Syria participating.  Lavrov said the conference should include countries beyond the “friends of Syria,” because this group is supporting only the “radical demands” of the Syrian National Council.  Lavrov mentioned in particular members of the U.N. Security Council, the E.U., and the Arab League as well as Turkey and Iran.  The aim of the conference should be to implement the Annan plan “correctly and without ambiguity.”

--Translated by Mato [Wolfgang Masarié].