Syrian troops and militia 'seen' on way to massacre

Fri, Jun 8, 2012, 01:00

WITNESSES TO an apparent massacre that killed close to 100 civilians in a small Syrian village have described watching pro-regime militiamen whom they personally knew pass by with loyalist troops minutes before the killing started.

The claims about the massacre, the second in less than three weeks allegedly carried out by regime loyalists known as the shabiha, have prompted the US and Britain to once more demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down as leader of Syria, which now appears to be on an inexorable slide towards full-blown war.

At face value, Wednesday’s incident appears to have stark similarities to the massacre in Houla on May 25th, where more than 100 people were killed, the majority of them women and children.

The attack on civilian homes also appears to have been launched following at least 30 minutes of shell fire from tanks.

Women and children have again accounted for large numbers of the reported deaths, witnesses say.

Abu Hisham al-Hamawi, a resident of the Mazraat area, whose home is on the outskirts of al-Qubair, said that minutes before the attack was launched at about 2.30pm on Tuesday he witnessed shabiha militiamen from nearby Alawite villages pass by his home en route to al-Qubair.

“I knew some of them from school,” he said. “I know their names. I know their villages. I know exactly who they are. They are shabiha, no doubt. They passed by here with the regime army.”

He said that Mazraat had not been a politically active area during the 16-month Syrian uprising. Nor had it been a stronghold of the Free Syria Army, which continues to battle Syrian loyalist forces on most days.

“This is a farming community,” he said. “They are very poor people, a lot of them are shepherds. There are only a few families in the village and all of them are now dead.”

Mazraat al-Qubair is close to four Alawite villages, placing it in the heart of the demographically sensitive heart of Syria’s uprising.

“But we have never had a problem with them before now,” said Abu Hisham. “We have not even had a relationship, or any tensions. This is the first time there has been any fighting in this area. This is the first time the army has attacked us.

“But in the region around us, the shabiha is very strong. So is the regime army.”

A second witness, who did not want to be named, said shelling of the area started on Wednesday at around 2pm. He said gunfire then followed at about 2.45pm, lasting for 30 minutes, before a second burst of fire later in the afternoon. The man said there were no more than 25 homes in the village, most belonging to the Ulwan family. He said tanks moved in after the firing had stopped, levelling some of the homes. Some houses were then burned.

Syria denied its forces had been responsible for the latest deaths, again blaming terrorist groups who it claims are outmanoeuvring its armed forces and slaughtering civilians.

“Syrian Sunnis don’t want a war in Syria,” said Abu Hisham. “Syrian Alawites want one because it’s a war they can win. They have all the support, all the big weapons. If it happens we will be the losers. We will be exterminated.” – Guardian service