photo by Razan Ghazzawi
The Syrian regime is now perpetrating crimes against humanity at a pace to match its crimes in Hama in 1982 and at the Tel Za’atar Palestinian camp in 1976. All of Syria is a burning hell. Savage aerial bombardment (such as that causing the apocalypse here in Kafranbel, which held such beautifully creative demonstrations) and continuous massacres have raised the average daily death toll to well above two hundred, most of them in Damascus and its suburbs. The other day 440 people were murdered in twenty four hours.
The worst hit area has been the working class suburb of Darayya. I visited people in Darayya some years ago, and once bought a bedroom set for a friend’s wedding in the town. I remember it as a lively, friendly, youthful place. Last year Darayya became a cultural centre of the revolution. Ghiath Matar and others developed wonderful methods of non-violent protest there. When security forces arrived to repress demonstrations, Darayya’s residents handed the soldiers flowers and glasses of water. But Matar was murdered, and Darayya has been repeatedly raided, its young men detained and tortured, its women and children shot and bombed. Nevertheless, for some months the regime was kept out of Darayya. The town ruled itself in a civilised manner, successfully keeping a lid on crime and sectarianism.
The recent pattern is already well established (remember the massacre at Houla), but this time has played out on a larger scale. The regime bombed Darayya for days, mainly from artillery stationed on the mountains overlooking Damascus. Once any armed resistance had retreated, soldiers and shabeeha militia moved in, with knives and guns. This stage reminds one of Sabra and Shatila. It seems there was a list of suspected activists and resistance sympathisers, but the field executions included old men, women and children. About three hundred bodies have been counted so far, found in the street or in basements or in family homes.
The next stage is to mock the victims. The film below is the al-Dunya (a regime propaganda channel) report on the massacre. The actress/journalist (not a good actress, for she mistakes the scene; while waxing poetic and prettily outraged, she forgets to simulate fear and horror) shows the viewers what the ‘terrorists’ have done. She interviews a wounded woman. The wounded woman responds as if she’s facing interrogation, which of course she is. Terrified women in the back of a pick-up praise the regime army. The reporter is accompanied by the army that has just murdered the women’s neighbours. From 4.20 the reporter compounds the trauma of a little girl who is lying terrified beside her dead mother. It is perhaps the most disgusting thing you’ll ever see.
Postscript. The appalling Robert Fisk (I know he used to be good but since 2005 he has been an awful journalist, self-obsessed, ignorant, fawning over warlords or their wives, pretending to speak Arabic when he obviously doesn’t) has done his own version of the al-Dunya propaganda in Darayya. Admittedly, his report isn’t quite as obscene as al-Dunya’s, or rather it exists within a tradition which is slightly less obscene than al-Dunya’s. But it’s still obscene. Here it is. It will make the intellignet, informed or humane reader vomit. (A few days before, Fisk fawningly interviewed the criminal Walid Muallem. Muallem whined about anti-Syrian conspiracy, and Fisk, instead of using his access to say “But surely the revolution is motivated and mobilised by regime repression?” he said, “But isn’t it all about Iran?” In other words he believes the regime propaganda, and the balnket thinkers, and is entirely ignorant about what happens on the ground in Syria, just as he’s been ignorant about Lebanon for many years. What else can we expect from an area ‘expert’ who thinks the arabic word umma (nation or community) means ‘mother’?
Anyway, the Local Coordination Committees, who understand the requirements of ethical journalism better than the Independent, have responded, very politely, to this shambles of a journalist. Here is the response:
Daraya Coordination Committee
Robert Fisk’s report about the massacre of Saturday 25/08/2012
On Wednesday 29 August 2012, Mr. Robert Fisk of The Independent wrote a report on the Daraya Massacre that was perpetrated only 4 days earlier. Mr. Fisk is a world-famous journalist known for his balanced opinion pieces and ground-breaking reports especially from the Middle East. The people of Syria especially remember Fisk for being the first foreign reporter to enter the city of Hama after the 1982 massacre and relate to the world the horrors he saw there. Thus, we were absolutely astonished by the above-mentioned report and would like to make sure that certain points in it are not left uncorrected. We do this out of respect to the fallen heroes and to make sure the voice of the victims is heard.
Anyone who watched the infamous and insolent report made by the state-favored Addounia TV, would notice the obvious similarities between the two reports.
One major concern that would invalidate any statement taken from the victims is the presence of army personnel as admitted by Mr. Fisk himself. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Syrian regime would know the degree of intimidation this would incur in the hearts and minds of witnesses. The army does not need to spoon-feed the statements to the witnesses as fear is more than enough to make them repeat the narrative propagated by the government about armed militias and radical Islamists.
Moreover, the article is headlined and predicated on the government’s unbelievable prisoner-swap story. The question that begs to be asked is the following: Even if there was a prisoner exchange and it failed, does the Assad regime have any grounds at all for this level of retaliation? Were there similar failed rounds of negotiation before the massacres of Muaddamiya, Saqba etc. In fact, what has been happening in the towns of the Damascus Countryside Governorate, and indeed all of Syria, follows a similar scenario that begins with shelling and ends with massacres of civilians.
A seemingly strong point in Mr. Fisk’s report is his mentioning of real names of people telling their real stories. However, the Coordination Committee of Daraya has been in touch with some of these people and the following corrections need to be made.
1- The story of Hamdi Khreitem’s parents. The witness must have been too intimidated to identify his parents’ killers. Our reliable sources from the field hospital of Daraya confirm that both of them were targeted by a sniper (from the Assad army of course).
2- The story of Khaled Yahya Zukari. The witness was actually in a car with his brother and their wives and children. They were shot at by government forces and his wife and daughter (Leen) were hit. The baby girl’s head was almost split in half and a bullet penetrated the mother’s chest. The mother became hysterical as a result of the shock. Later she died as the field hospital had to be evacuated prior to an army raid. The Assad army told the people that the FSA raped and killed the woman.
The fear and intimidation of witnesses is reflected sometimes in their refusal to name a guilty side. Moreover, Mr. Fisk should know better than reporting conjecture such as this: ‘Another man said that, although he had not seen the dead in the graveyard, he believed that most were related to the government’s army and included several off-duty conscripts.’ The implicit accusation is of course directed against the FSA and this method of reporting resembles Syrian state propaganda par excellence, something that we wish Mr. Fisk had not done.
The revolution committee would finally like to stress also that Mr. Fisk did not meet any member of the opposition in Daraya and that he merely depended on the narrative of his ‘tour guides’ in reporting on such a horrific massacre, the ugliest Syria has seen in the 17 months of the revolution
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