The battle for truth in Damascus
It is a matter of some regret that the Syrian government press conference yesterday was held so late in the day that I could not be there.
Clearly it was some spectacle. Not since the dying days of the Saddam regime in Baghdad and the primetime performances of “Comical Ali” have we heard such arrant nonsense coming from a government mouthpiece. In fact, several government mouthpieces.
Let me personally assure the Syrian government of some fact. Facts which are from my own direct experience.
I was in Houla for several hours on Sunday 27 May, in the middle of the day. During that time I saw three tracked armoured personnel carriers being deployed during several different firefights in the vicinity of our position with Syrian forces.
Whilst the Syrian army could go some way to stop us from filming what was happening, they could do nothing to prevent my noting, observing and remembering what was happening, and where it happened.
On several different occasions these APCs – the soldiers referred to them as “BMVs” – were deployed to attack presumably rebel positions in Houla. Each is mounted with a large single-barrel heavy gun on the top. I’m afraid I am no military anorak and can say little more by way of description.
On several occasions I personally witnessed these heavy weapons fire into positions in the town.
But don’t take my word for it. The deputy head of the UN monitoring mission to Syria told me they were used close to the UN convoy’s position that day a little nearer to the centre of Houla.
Martin Griffith told me, as we spoke later that day on the outskirts of the town: “Our progress was slowed down a little when a Syrian army vehicle passed close to our position and fired two rounds. That, of course, started a firefight.”
Further, the government statement that the massacre at Houla was carried out by 6-700 militia with “heavy weapons” might be true but it certainly begs some important questions.
How come everyone in Houla who witnessed some of what went on puts the number at around 100?
Equally, nobody in Houla mentions the killers using any kind of heav weapon at all. Certainly not rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, and, still less, artillery and cannon of any description.
For the people, the victims, it is just guns – by which they mean Kalashnikovs – and knives. If the Syrian government says it had heavy weapons, why does it also say most of the people were shot at close range?
Most ludicrous of all, why does the government claim that a lot of the bodies are those of the perpetrators them selves? Why would they simply be buried alongside the victims and treated just the same way? Would they not have any kind of ID displayed on YouTube almost before the guns had fallen silent?
And in any case, are we seriously supposed to believe that the Syrian government permits militias to wander around its territory using heavy weapons and that it either cannot or will not do anything to stop it?
If so, Damascus and the Assad regime is clearly a lot closer to falling than anybody could possibly have realised. If so…
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