[Marxism] "200" dead in Syria - but who were they?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 4 06:29:46 MST 2012

On 2/3/12 5:55 PM, Eli Stephens wrote:
> Today's news from Syria "informs" (or misinforms, depending on what the
> actual facts are) us that 200 "people" were killed in the Syrian city of
> Homs by a government assault using tanks and machine guns. I've written
> before about the "source" of this "information," which is basically an
> organization based in London. But let's assume for the moment that this
> information is completely true and ask a few more questions:

It would help if Syria did not have a ban on independent reporting. I 
have a lot of respect for Anthony Shadid, who friends we have in common 
advise me that he is sympathetic to the left, but he is forced to report 
from Beirut:

NY Times February 4, 2012
Death Toll Is Said to Rise in Syrian City of Homs

BEIRUT — Syria opposition leaders raised the death toll to 260 in a 
military assault Saturday on the ravaged central city of Homs, an attack 
that opposition leaders described as the government’s deadliest in the 
nearly 11-month-old uprising.

Reports were contradictory, given the difficulty of communications with 
Homs, and the Syrian government flatly denied the toll, calling it an 
attempt at propaganda ahead of a United Nations Security Council meeting 
Saturday on Syria. But videos smuggled out of the city and reports by 
opposition activists showed a harrowing barrage of mortar shells and 
gunfire that left hundreds more wounded in the city.

“It’s an unprecedented attack,” said Mohammed Saleh, an opposition 
activist from Homs who recently fled to a nearby town to escape the 
mounting strife there.

As word spread of the barrage, opposition protests broke out Saturday at 
Syrian embassies around the world, including Egypt, Germany and Kuwait.

Accounts by activists, independently basing their information on what 
they described as contacts in Homs, said the barrage was apparently 
unleashed after defectors attacked two military checkpoints and 
kidnapped soldiers. One activist put the number of abducted soldiers at 
13, another 19. They suggested that enraged commanders then ordered the 
assault, which lasted from about 9 p.m. Friday to 1 a.m. Saturday, 
focusing on the neighborhood of Khaldiya. Five other neighborhoods were 
also assaulted.

At one point, a resident said, people left the top floors of residential 
buildings, fearful that shelling they described as random would wreck 
their homes.

The precise number of dead was almost impossible to obtain. The Syrian 
National Council, which has sought to act as an umbrella group for the 
opposition, said more than 260 were killed. The London-based Syrian 
Observatory for Human Rights said the toll in Khaldiya and the other 
neighborhoods was 217. Both groups, along with other activists, said the 
wounded numbered in the hundreds, though again, there was no specific 

One opposition activist said the Syrian military suffered casualties, too.

“It’s a real massacre in every sense of the word,” said a resident in 
Khaldiya, who gave his name as Abu Jihad. “I saw bodies of women and 
children lying on roads beheaded. It’s horrible and inhuman. It was a 
long night helping people get to hospitals.”

As it has since the uprising started, the Syrian government accused 
media and activists of fantastically exaggerating the toll. In a report 
Saturday on the Syrian state news agency, SANA, it complained of 
“frenetic media campaigns against Syria disseminating false information 
about Syria Army shelling of civilians in different blamed Arab 
satellite channels for inflaming the strife in different Syrian 

The agency, citing its correspondents across the country, declared that 
“life is normal in the Damascus countryside, Hama and Homs.”

Near the border with Lebanon, in western Syria, Homs has been a critical 
hub of the uprising, which stands as one of the bloodiest of the Arab 
world’s revolts. The city mirrors Syria’s own diversity, with a Sunni 
Muslim majority that has backed the uprising. But at least three 
neighborhoods are populated largely by Alawites, a heterodox strain of 
Islam that provides much of the leadership of President Bashar 
al-Assad’s government.

In past months, sectarian strife there has dangerously intensified, 
offering a grim window on what a broader civil war could look like in 
Syria. Though protests started peacefully there, defectors have begun 
operating checkpoints, and tit-for-tat kidnappings and killings have 
paralyzed parts of the city, where something as simple as the choice of 
a television news station can belie a person’s loyalty. Some activists 
have tried to bridge the sectarian divide, but even they fear the 
violence may overwhelm those attempts.

“The army has weapons, and the people have weapons,” one opposition 
activist said on condition of anonymity, recounting Saturday’s 
bloodshed. “Syria is finished for me. It is a civil war and nothing will 
save us anymore.”

Funerals took place Saturday in Homs, as a relative calm was reported in 
the city. At one funeral for 20 people, a resident said, armed defectors 
were offering protection.

The bloodshed reverberated around the world, demonstrating the power of 
social media. As reports of the mounting toll were carried by Twitter 
and Facebook, protests gathered at Syrian missions in the Middle East 
and Europe. As many as 100 demonstrators stormed the Syrian embassy in 
Cairo at about 3 a.m. Saturday, tearing its iron gate off it hinges, 
burning parts of the first floor, and demolishing much of the 
ambassador’s office. By the morning, the floors were littered with 
broken glass, furniture that was torn apart or burned and the detritus 
of office equipment.

It was the second time in two weeks protesters had breached the embassy, 
but the previous attack had destroyed not much more than framed pictures 
of Mr. Assad.

Amman Arsan, the embassy’s media counselor, said he saw no connection 
between the events in Homs and what he called “the terrorist attack” on 
the Cairo mission. "The Syrian army is conducting an operation against 
terrorist groups in Hama and Homs,” he said. “This is a crime. Nothing 
in the whole world justifies this.”

The simultaneous attacks on Syrian embassies in Berlin, Kuwait, Amman, 
Cairo and elsewhere, he said, was evidence of a coordinated assault by 
Syria’s enemies.

Nada Bakri and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and David 
D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

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