[Marxism] Patrick Cockburn on the slaughter in Syria

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 27 08:59:09 MDT 2012


Exclusive dispatch: Assad blamed for massacre of the innocents

The war in Syria escalates with the brutal killing of 32 children

Patrick Cockburn
Sunday, 27 May 2012

In a massacre of unprecedented savagery that brings Syria close to civil 
war, some 32 children and 60 adults have been slaughtered in villages in 
the Houla area of central Syria. Anti-government militants blame 
pro-regime gunmen for carrying out the butchery in which children and 
their parents were hacked and shot to death.

The figure for the number of children and adults killed was confirmed in 
an interview with The Independent on Sunday by General Robert Mood, the 
head of the team of 300 UN observers which is seeking to reduce the 
level of violence. "My patrols went into the village," he said. "I can 
verify that they counted 32 children under 10 killed. In addition, there 
were more than 60 adults dead."

General Mood would not explain how the villagers died, but horrific 
pictures posted on YouTube appear to show that they were shot or knifed 
to death, some having their throats cut. The small bodies of the 
children were covered in sheets as they were taken by survivors 
screaming in grief and disbelief from the houses where they had been 

The massacre is the worst single incident in Syria's 14-month crisis 
because it involved the deliberate murder of children as well as adults. 
Militants say the perpetrators were pro-regime gunmen, known as the 
shabiya, who had captured Houla. If true, the shabiya may have been 
members of the Alawite sect, which is supportive of the government. 
Alawites inhabit a string of villages south of Houla, which is 25km 
north-west of Homs. The Syrian leadership is largely drawn from the 
Alawite sect.

General Mood said that fighting around Houla started on Friday evening 
with the use of "tanks, artillery, rocket-propelled grenades, and heavy 
machine guns". This implied an attack by government forces since the 
insurgent Free Syrian Army does not have heavy weapons. This confirms 
the militants' story that there had been big anti-government protests on 
Friday in Houla, where there have previously been many anti-government 

The calculated slaughter of Sunni villagers and their children by 
Alawites brings a new level of violence to Syria and propels it towards 
sectarian civil war. Yesterday, Damascus was quiet aside from one 
protest in an outlying district, but fighting has intensified at Rastan, 
north of Homs. Observers from the UN Supervision Mission in Syria 
(UNSMS) have mediated a ceasefire there, leaving insurgents in control 
of the town. But this straddles the main highway linking Damascus and 
Aleppo, so the government is unlikely to allow the Free Syrian Army to 
hold the town for long.

The Houla massacre could mark a crucial stage in the war in Syria 
because it will energise the insurgents inside and outside the country. 
It will make it more difficult for any compromise or new ceasefire to be 
arranged between President Bashar Assad and his opponents. It will 
increase hatred between Sunni and Alawites, a heterodox branch of Shia 
Islam. This has already been seen in the past week, with 11 Shia 
pilgrims kidnapped by insurgents in Syria and 10 people killed in 
associated violence in Lebanon. Houla is not far from the Lebanese 
border, and the latest atrocity is similar to what happened in the 
Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, when different communities 
repeatedly massacred each other.

The pictures of the dead children of Houla are likely to create an 
international outcry and underline that the ceasefire arranged by the 
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is foundering. General Mood confirmed 
yesterday that there was no real ceasefire in Syria and said that there 
could not be an effective one until the combatants themselves 
implemented it. He emphasised that unarmed UN monitors cannot impose a 
truce, though in some areas, such as Homs, they have succeeded in 
"calming" the situation. He said: "The solution to the Syria crisis lies 
in the hands of the Syrian government, the fragmented opposition, and 
those outside fuelling the crisis by supplying arms and explosives."

Mr Annan is due in Damascus in the next few days to try to patch up a 
new ceasefire, but neither the government nor its opponents have carried 
through on past agreements. The government suppression of peaceful 
protest with gunfire and mass detentions has continued. At the same 
time, the Islamicisation and militarisation of the opposition is 
frightening minorities, such as the Alawites, Christians and Druze. The 
government is targeting moderate and secular opposition in order to 
present a stark choice to Syrians, and the world, between itself and 
Islamic fundamentalists.

Last night, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said: "There are 
credible and horrific reports that a large number of civilians have been 
massacred, including children. Our urgent priority is to ensure those 
responsible are held to account. We will be calling for an urgent 
session of the UN Security Council in the coming days. The Assad regime 
must cease all military operations."

The President and his First Lady... and their people

He is the President; she is the First Lady; they are dead children. He 
governs but doesn't protect; she shops and doesn't care; they will never 
grow old. His father was an autocrat; hers a Harley Street doctor; 
theirs are bereaved. He will sleep in his bed tonight; so will she; they 
will be in their graves. However you conjugate the lives of the Syrian 
leader and his people, there is something very wrong.

Two days ago, they were all alive. He and she in their gilded residence, 
looking much as they do in this photograph - he sharp-suited, she 
sun-glassed and with a watch of gold on her wrist. The children were in 
their ramshackled homes in Houla, poor but alive. Then the men of war 
came. When they left, the children were as you see them here in this, 
the most grotesque picture yet to emerge from this land of the alleged 

There are still photographs of this scene, and video. And over the 
footage that would bear more than enough testimony to the redundant 
regime of Assad, the voice of a man can be heard screaming. "These are 
all children!" he cries, shrill with angry despair, "Watch, you dogs, 
you Arabs, you animals – look at these children, watch, just watch!"

And one hopes that those on the United Nations Security Council, when it 
reconvenes, will look into the staring eyes of these dead children and 
remember the hollow words of Assad's wife when she simpered that she 
"comforts the families" of her country's victims.

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