[Marxism] Syria massacres seem to show slow, steady killing strategy
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 17 07:01:22 MDT 2012
Syria massacres seem to show slow, steady killing strategy
Bashar Assad's forces may be moving incrementally to avoid shocking the
international community. But towns are watching the toll of quiet
September 15, 2012|By the Los Angeles Times
DARIYA, Syria — As he hid from soldiers in a field next to his
neighborhood, a young man watched as a cat wandered down a street.
Suddenly, it was shot dead. That's when Zuhair noticed the sniper on a
But a father and son walking along the street didn't see the gunman,
Zuhair said. The sniper lowered his head and peered through his scope.
He shot the boy first. As the man tried to grab his son, who looked to
be about 10, he was shot as well.
The two are among a reported 700 victims of snipers, shelling and
summary executions, most of them men, since forces loyal to President
Bashar Assad stormed the Damascus suburb of Dariya in late August, one
in a growing list of Syrian towns and villages that briefly enter the
world's spotlight, only to be replaced by another one when a new mass
killing is committed.
Unlike a massacre by government forces three decades earlier in the city
of Hama, which left more than 20,000 dead in just three weeks and still
haunts the country, the reported atrocities have been spread over months
of bloodshed in Syria. That has led some to call the government campaign
a kind of slow-motion Hama.
Late last year, as the government siege of the city of Homs was
underway, activists began tweeting: "Homs 2011 = Hama 1982, but slowly,
slowly." As the conflict becomes more bloody on both sides, the same can
be said for the entire country.
"They killed them in one sweep [in Hama]; with us, it's in stages," said
Um Hussam, a mother of five who runs a small convenience shop in an old
neighborhood of Dariya. "We expected they would kill and terrorize
people, but not to this … level of barbarity."
After videos of children's bodies emerged after a massacre of 108 people
in the town of Houla in May, there was brief international outcry, and
several Western countries expelled their Syrian ambassadors and
diplomats. Less than two weeks later in the town of Qubair, 78 were
killed and United Nation monitors were fired upon when they first tried
to visit the village.
On Thursday, activists said 36 civilians had been executed in Yalda, a
Like the Hama massacre before, these mass killings are an effort not
only to crush dissent but also to ensure that future generations don't
think of revolting, said Muhammad Shihadeh, an activist in Dariya. He
also sees a sinister motive in the relatively smaller toll in each mass
"It was a smart tactic on the part of the regime so there wouldn't be a
shock from the international community," Shihadeh said. "But we're
seeing that the world has a very expansive red line."
The opposition estimates at least 27,000 have been killed, and the
numbers are rising.
"It keeps getting worse. When we first went out in protests, they killed
three, and then they began raiding homes and killed 10, and then they
started killing more, until they came into Dariya and killed 700," said
Abu Kinan, a resident and activist. "Maybe next time they come in, they
will kill 1,000."
Dariya, a five-minute drive from the capital, had gained some level of
independence in recent months, not through rebel force but as the
government gradually withdrew its troops to fight elsewhere.
The city of more than 200,000 was home to some of the most famous
peaceful acts of dissent early in the uprising, including giving roses
to forces sent to attack demonstrators. Moreover, the rebels and
activists here say they learned from the mistakes of other areas that
declaring a region "liberated" would just invite a government offensive
that they were ill-equipped to fight.
But rebel militias based in Dariya have been involved in some of the
targeted operations against the government, including a recent attack on
the nearby Mezze airport.
The shelling of Dariya began on a Monday in late August, on the second
day of the Eid al-Fitr celebration. Free Syrian Army rebels in Dariya,
aided by opposition militias from other suburbs, launched a weak
defense, attacking tanks and armored vehicles with Kalashnikov rifles
and rocket-propelled grenades.
The following Friday, as the shelling worsened and the injuries
surpassed 1,000, the rebels withdrew.
By that evening, the soldiers of the 4th Division, stationed in the
mountains above the city and identified by a red band they wear on their
left sleeves, had entered Dariya. The next day, they began systematic
raids, pulling dozens of men from their homes and taking them to empty
basements where they were summarily executed, according to activists'
accounts and interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch. Others were
killed by snipers on top of buildings.
Activist Abu Muawya had slept over at a friend's house and was awakened
at 7 a.m. Saturday and told that soldiers were about to raid the
neighborhood. He opened the second-floor window to jump out, but the
soldiers were already spread throughout the street.
He and his friend climbed into the attic over the kitchen and lay down
behind old jars and large picture frames, careful not to touch the dust
on the objects so they would appear undisturbed. The soldiers ordered
the family to serve them breakfast and spent an hour and a half eating
and ransacking the home, he said.
The troops threatened to take the family's young son, but the mother
cried and begged and they relented, Abu Muawya said.
They never searched the attic.
"Honestly, those are moments you don't forget, while we were lying there
every time we would hear a sound I would grab his hair and he would grip
my hair," he said. "We were pouring sweat and fear, and we left no
That night, as the soldiers retreated from the streets, residents began
discovering the bodies. In one basement, residents say, 72 bodies were
found. In another, 50. In Freedom Square, 35 had been executed.
"When we heard 200 bodies we didn't believe it — what is this number?"
said Hussam, Um Hussam's eldest son, who helps run her shop. "We didn't
believe it until the first video was sent."
The next day, Republican Guard troops and shabiha militiamen came into
Dariya and raided many of the same homes, repeating the same pattern of
executions, activists said. Many residents tried to flee but were shot
at on the roads.
That night, residents say, they began finding hundreds more bodies.
In one video shot in the following days, dozens of bodies lying on their
sides are lined up in a mass grave, their arms slung over the body in
front as if snuggling.
The majority of the city's dead were executed in basements, away from
the recording eye of camera phones that have helped document this
One of the few accounts that has emerged came from a resident who is
said to be one of four survivors in a basement where he said 72 others
were shot to death.
In a video recorded days afterward, the man, who is shown only from the
shoulders down to protect his identity, holds up a bullet and says,
"This entered my cousin here, it entered his waist here and exited
here," indicating his right and then left sides, "and then it grazed my
head here," he said as the camera panned to a light scar on his head.
"I kept this bullet," he said. "It's all blood, it's all blood."
After he was wounded, the man fell to the ground and lay underneath the
bodies of his cousin and other relatives for hours before another
resident in the area came into the basement.
Those in the basement were all men from the neighborhood, he said. One
man who had been brought with his four sons prayed loudly, "Please God
take my soul, but just protect my children."
All five were killed, he said.
When rebel fighter Abu Baraa got word that the soldiers were coming into
the city, he and many other young men like him fled to the gardens and
groves that rim the city. But troops still fired into the fields and
some of the men with Abu Baraa were struck and bled to death.
From where he lay, Abu Baraa could see some of the homes on the edge of
Dariya. From one building he saw the soldiers drag two men into the
street. Each was shot once in the back of the head.
"They didn't speak to them," he said. "They just shot them."
The government has countered activists' claims that it was responsible
for the massacre and blamed "terrorists," the term it uses to describe
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than a dozen residents and activists
and analyzed satellite imagery before and after the weeklong offensive.
Ole Solvang, the group's emergencies researcher, said it believes
government forces or pro-Assad militias were behind all of the killings.
The rights group found no evidence that rebels with the Free Syrian Army
were responsible for any of the deaths, he said.
At the chain-link fence separating the street from the mass graves, Abu
Kinan peered at the list of 502 names.
Behind him a rickety pickup stopped and a boy leaned out the passenger
window, "Any more today?"
"Sixteen," Abu Kinan said, briefly glancing away from the list.
The boy nodded and the truck drove off.
It is the question that has been on the tips of residents' tongues —
even before "Good morning" and "How are you?" — since the attack on
Beyond the fence, five long dirt mounds hold the bodies of more than 600
people. About 100 others are buried in a cemetery filled to capacity in
another part of the city.
Before the uprising even started, would-be opposition leaders debated
among themselves what it would take to bring down Assad and what the
human cost would be, activist Shihadeh said.
Some said Assad wouldn't go with fewer than 10,000 killed.
"And then," Shihadeh said, "we began to yearn for that number."
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