Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 15, 2013

The worst atrocity of the war in Syria?

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm

A Youtube video has gone viral. You can find 754,000 references to it on Google and it is displayed prominently on MRZine (where else?) It shows a commander of the Farouq Brigades cutting out the heart of a dead Syrian soldier and taking a bite out of it. While such depravity is not to be condoned, how does it compare to these reports in today’s NY Times that mentions this incident but has much more to say about the real atrocities:

The recent executions, reconstructed by speaking with residents and human rights monitors, unfolded over three days in two Sunni enclaves in the largely Alawite and Christian province, first in the village of Bayda and then in the Ras al-Nabeh district of the nearby city of Baniyas.

Government troops and supporting militias went house to house, killing entire families and smashing men’s heads with concrete blocks.

Antigovernment activists provided lists of 322 victims they said had been identified. Videos showed at least a dozen dead children. Hundreds more people are reported missing.

“How can we reach a point of national forgiveness?” said Ahmad Abu al-Khair, a well-known blogger from Bayda. He said that the attacks had begun there, and that 800 of about 6,000 residents were missing.

Multiple video images that residents said they had recorded in Bayda and Ras al-Nabeh — of small children lying where they died, some embracing one another or their parents — were so searing that even some government supporters rejected Syrian television’s official version of events, that the army had “crushed a number of terrorists.”

One prominent pro-government writer, Bassam al-Qadi, took the unusual, risky step of publicly blaming loyalist gunmen for the killings and accusing the government of “turning a blind eye to criminals and murderers in the name of ‘defending the homeland.’ “

Images of the killings in and around Baniyas have transfixed Syrians. In one video that residents say shows victims in Ras al-Nabeh, the bodies of at least seven children and several adults lie tangled and bloody on a rain-soaked street. A baby girl, naked from the waist down, stares skyward, tiny hands balled into fists. Her round face is unblemished, but her belly is darkened and her legs and feet are charred into black cinders.

Opposition leaders called the Baniyas killings sectarian “cleansing” aimed at pushing Sunnis out of territory that may form part of an Alawite rump state if Syria ultimately fractures. Mr. Houry said the killings inevitably raised such fears, though there was no evidence of such a broad policy. Tens of thousands of displaced Sunnis are staying in the province, largely safe.

Not all reactions followed sectarian lines. Survivors said Christian neighbors had helped survivors escape, and on Tuesday, Alawite and Christian residents of the province said they were starting an aid campaign for victims to “defy the sectarian wind.”

Mr. Qadi, the pro-government writer, labeled the killers “criminals who do not represent the Alawites” and called on the government to immediately “acknowledge what happened” and arrest “those hyenas.”

He added: “This has happened in a lot of places. Baniyas is only the most recent one.”

When the uprising began in March 2011 as a peaceful movement, Sunnis in Bayda raised banners denouncing Sunni extremists, seeking to reassure Alawites that they opposed Mr. Assad, not his sect, said Mr. Abu al-Khair, the blogger.

In May 2011, security forces stormed the village, killing demonstrators, including women.

After that, Bayda remained largely quiet. Most activists and would-be fighters left. But residents said they often helped defecting soldiers escape, a pattern they believe set off the violence.

Activists said that on May 2, around 4 a.m., security forces came to detain defectors, and were ambushed in a fight that killed several government fighters — the first known armed clash in Baniyas. The government called in reinforcements and, by 7 a.m., began shelling the village.

A pro-government television channel showed a reporter on a hill above Bayda. Smoke rose from green slopes and houses below, where, the reporter said, “terrorists” were hiding. A group of men the reporter described as government fighters walked unhurriedly through a square.

“God willing, Bayda will be finished today,” a uniformed man said on camera.

What happened next was described in Skype interviews with four survivors who for their safety gave only nicknames, an activist in Baniyas, and Mr. Abu al-Khair, who said he had spoken from Damascus with more than 30 witnesses.

Men in partial or full military dress went door to door, separating men — and boys 10 and older — from women and younger children.

Residents said some gunmen were from the National Defense Forces, the new framework for pro-government militias, mainly Alawites in the Baniyas area. They bludgeoned and shot men, shot or stabbed families to death and burned houses and bodies.

The activist in Baniyas, Abu Obada, said security forces had told people to gather in the square, and some Bayda villagers, fearing a massacre, attacked them with weapons abandoned by defectors. Other residents disputed that or were unsure because they had been hiding.

A cousin of Mr. Abu al-Khair’s, who gave her name as Warda al-Hurra, or the Free Rose, said her female relatives had described being herded to a bedroom with children, and heard male relatives crying out in pain nearby. At one point, her cousin Ahmed, 10, and brother Othman, 16, were brought in, injured and “limp as a towel,” she said.

Her aunt begged a guard to let them stay, but he said, “They’ll kill me if I make one single mistake.”

Soon another gunman shouted at him and took the boys away. They are still missing.

The gunmen brought more women, until there were 100 in the room. He ordered the guard to kill them. The guard said: “Don’t be rash! Take a breath.”

The man relented. The women heard gunmen celebrating in the square; later they were released. When they ventured out, there were “bodies on every corner,” Ms. Hurra said.

Another resident, Abu Abdullah, said he had fled his house and returned after dark to find stabbed, charred bodies of women and children dumped in the square, and 30 of his relatives dead.

Omar, of nearby Ras al-Nabeh, the man who had dragged dozens of bodies from the streets, said he had helped Bayda residents pick up bodies, placing 46 in two houses and the rest in a mosque, then had run away, fearing the return of the killers. He said he had recognized some bodies, including the village sheik, Omar al-Bayassi, whom some considered pro-government.

One video said to be from Bayda showed eight dead children on a bed. Two toddlers cuddled face to face; a baby rested on a dead woman’s shoulder.

On May 4, shelling and gunfire began to hit Ras al-Nabeh. Abu Yehya, a resident, hid in his house with his wife and two children, who stayed quiet: “Their instincts took over.” Two days later, he said, he emerged to find his neighbors, a family of 13, shot dead against a wall.

On May 6, security forces allowed in Red Crescent workers. Bodies were tossed and bulldozed into trucks and dumped in a mass grave, Mr. Abu al-Khair said.

Residents posted smiling pictures of children they said had been killed: Moaz al-Biassi, 1 year old, and his sister Afnan, 3. Three sisters, Halima, Sara, and Aisha. Curly-haired Noor, and Fatima, too little to have much hair but already sporting earrings.

Mr. Obada said residents on Tuesday were indignant when a government delegation offered compensation for damaged houses, saying, “What do you get if you rebuild the house and the whole family is dead?”

Displaced Sunnis who had sheltered there are fleeing, and some say Alawites are no longer welcome.

“It’s now impossible for them to stay in Syria,” Omar said.


  1. So, Louis Proyect has published a defense of the heart-eating incident in Syria. What about the atrocities on the other side, he argues. At the point where even pseudo-marxism loses all touch with notions of human liberation (eating hearts, I would have thought, would have formerly been banished to what Red Rosa called “barbarism”), I ask: Does he have another undeclared dog in the fight?
    Obviously, I think he does.

    Comment by Tony Clifford — May 20, 2013 @ 7:42 am

  2. So, Louis Proyect has published a defense of the heart-eating incident in Syria.

    My “defense”:

    “While such depravity is not to be condoned, how does it compare to these reports in today’s NY Times that mentions this incident but has much more to say about the real atrocities”

    This only confirms my point about al-Assad apologists having the same regard for the truth as Stalinists in the 1930s. I call something “depravity” and this word is turned into a defense! Gus Hall would be embarrassed to make such a claim.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 20, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

  3. You should take your glasses off, the ones that make you see everything in tints from the past. It’s possible to say of a fight: I don’t side with anyone here. They are all arseholes.

    Comment by Tony Clifford — May 20, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

  4. Else, you should rename your website “The Unrepetent Zionist”.

    Franklin Lamb:

    “The public reaction in Syria and across the Middle East is substantially
    that the “Friends of Syria” non-binding GA resolution contradicts the reality
    on the ground, backs terrorism in Syria and hinders the international efforts
    to help achieve a political solution to the crisis in this country. Only 107 states
    voted in favor of the resolution, 12 against while 59 countries, mostly from
    Africa and Latin America, abstained.

    One reason the vote fell short of the 130 favorable votes that the basically
    same resolution garnered the past two times is that it is widely viewed as
    ignoring the crimes and atrocities committed by the armed jihadist groups in
    Syria and the flow of thousands of international terrorists backed by the
    West, the Gulf states and Turkey who provide them with weapons and
    money. According to the Russian delegate, backed by several other speakers,
    “the resolutions ignores all the terrorists’ heinous crimes and denounces what
    it called the escalation of the attacks by the Syrian government.” Afterward
    one Latin American Permanent Representative told Inner City Press that the
    count would have been below 100 if not for some “last minute arm-twisting.”
    As it turned out, 15 countries didn’t vote at all, opting to “get coffee,” as one
    African Permanent Representative put it before the vote.”

    Comment by Tony Clifford — May 21, 2013 @ 8:44 am

  5. Else, you should rename your website “The Unrepetent Zionist”.

    I think you meant “Unrepentant”, a sign of your illiteracy.

    Btw, you should really make an effort to read a newspaper. Franklin Lamb is a drooling imbecile.

    The Times of London, May 17, 2013

    Islamist fear drives Israel to support Assad survival: Defence officials prefer ‘the devil we know to Syrian chaos’, report Sheera Frenkel and Roger Boyes

    Israel would prefer President Assad to survive his country’s bloody two-year insurgency if the alternative were a takeover by rebels infiltrated by Islamic extremists, Israeli officials said yesterday.

    Intelligence sources said that an intact, but weakened, Assad regime would be preferable for the country and the whole troubled region.

    “Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there,” one senior Israeli intelligence officer in the north of the country said.

    Another defence official said that his country had believed that Mr Assad’s regime would collapse sooner. “We originally underestimated Assad’s staying power and over-estimated the rebels’ fighting power,” the official said.

    The Israeli reassessment accords with increasing Western doubts that the rebels can win. Meanwhile, the Russian decision to supply advanced antiship cruise missiles to Mr Assad also complicates the enforcement of a nofly zone.

    Suspicions are growing of increasing extremist influence on the Syrian opposition.

    On Tuesday a video emerged showing a fighter called Khalid al-Hamad from near Homs who claimed to be eating the heart of an Assad fighter. The Islamic fundamentalist group Jabhat al-Nusra has been supporting rebels in Homs.

    The result has been an unusual, and perhaps temporary, consensus between the US Administration, Russia, Israel and Turkey — reached in a series of bilateral talks over the past three weeks — that the Assad regime and the opposition should be brought to the negotiating table. A Western intelligence analyst said that President Obama hoped for “a negotiated transfer of power rather than a disorderly change reached on the battlefield”.

    Israel shares Turkey’s doubts that Mr Assad will make concessions, but its priority remains to stop arms reaching Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia. “Better that they busy themselves fighting each other than fighting us,” the Israeli intelligence officer said.

    Until recently there were confident expectations that the Assad regime would collapse. Qatar, which is believed to have ferried 70 cargo aircraft of weapons to the rebels via Turkey over the past year, counted on multiple defections from the elite.

    In the past year Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Defence Minister, and Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad intelligence service, have predicted Mr Assad’s “imminent” fall and given him “months, maybe years” before being killed or expelled from Syria.

    Mr Obama, visiting Jordan two months ago, spoke of concern for Syria “the day after” Mr Assad fell.

    But they have been reckoning without the changes in Mr Assad’s military strategy, his concentration of forces in the Alawite heartland of northern Syria, the use of some 60,000 militia irregulars trained in part by Iranian advisers and the deployment of Hezbollah units.

    Russia has continued to back him, sending not only the anti-ship missiles but 200 S300 surface-to-air missiles, Syrian sources said.

    “We see a situation which some people call the ‘Balkanisation’ of Syria as being very realistic, with Assad controlling the vital area from Damascus northwards towards the coasts of Latakia and various rebel groups controlling the rest of the country,” the senior Israeli defence official said.

    Israeli fears of a hostile northern neighbour have increased. “You can see that the rebels in Syria are fighting the Army and the Assad regime,” Lieutenant-General Benjamin Gantz, chief-of-staff of the Israel Defence Forces, said in an interview with Israel’s army radio. “But it is clear that there will be another war there. It could be between themselves, but also could be turned against us. I have the impression that we will see both.”

    Hardline rebels in control in southern Syria say their ambition is to regain the Golan Heights, conquered by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

    This month Syrian officials warned Israel they could “respond to Israeli aggression” if Israel continued air strikes against suspected weapons convoys.

    The US is pressing Israel and Turkey to hold back from military action or from calls for regime change in Syria so as not to compromise the chances of an all-party conference that could be held early next month.

    The US, Britain and Turkey are urging the Syrian opposition — which will meet in Istanbul next Thursday — to join the talks without setting Mr Assad’s removal as a precondition. Russia has been asked to press the Syrian regime to send senior representatives.

    John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, paid a surprise visit to Israel yesterday to discuss the Syrian conflict.

    ‘Better that they busy themselves fighting each other than us’ Israeli intelligence officer

    Comment by louisproyect — May 21, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

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