Is this massacre a sign of things to come? It certainly did not come out of the blue
guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 May 2012
"....The horror of Houla is more than just a humanitarian challenge. In a 15-month conflict which has largely been left to run on its own steam, is this massacre a sign of things to come? It certainly did not come out of the blue. Most of the 13 neighbourhoods of Homs that have been emptied of residents by the fighting are close to Allawite communities, from the Shia sect forming the backbone of the regime. For months, the adjoining Allawite villagers heard the chants of defiance from Houla, which had become a stronghold of the opposition militia and home of many of the families of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Perhaps that is why, when men in uniform appeared in the enclave after the shelling had largely stopped on Friday evening, they killed men, women and children alike, some of them infants. Some of the victims had their wrists bound, according to one video. Many had shots to the head or had been hacked to death. A reconstruction of events by Human Rights Watch, which talked to survivors, confirmed the indiscriminate nature of the killing.
Russia suggested that the violence in Houla had been intended to sabotage Annan's visit, and Assad's regime blamed al-Qaida, as it now does for every civilian who dies. As only one side in this conflict has tanks and artillery, a non-binding resolution by the UN security council, which criticised the use of artillery and tank shells on homes in Houla, is explicitly a condemnation of the Syrian government alone. However, to keep face with a policy it is in the process of jettisoning, Russia continued to suggest on Monday that the close-quarter killings in Houla could have been conducted by the rebels' own side. Some fighters linked to al-Qaida are indeed in Syria, a combination of jihadis with close tribal links from Iraq's Anbar province and zealots from Libya. The big car bomb attacks in Damascus are probably their work. But to suggest "armed terrorist groups" alone account for civilian deaths, or that the ranks of the opposition fighters have been "stiffened" by Islamist jihadis linked to al-Qaida, is doing Assad's work for him, especially in the context of a war that is rapidly becoming sectarian. Nor, when reporters enter rebel-held areas, is there evidence of Assad's claims that the opposition groups are foreign terrorists. The Guardian found on its latest foray into rebel-held territory that the FSA were not flush with ammunition – every bullet seemed to count. Nor was there any trace of foreign jihadis. It was not difficult to find them in Chechnya. Rather, they found you.
Assad is undermining the Annan plan at the risk of losing the support of the last two members of the UN security council, which have held out against a Libyan-style intervention – Russia and China. With a senior commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guards admitting the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, it is brutally clear what will happen down the line if the conflict carries on. Syria will disintegrate into a Lebanese-style civil war, with shockwaves throughout the region. Already tremors are being felt in Lebanon itself......"