Western officials continue to cite Friday’s Houla massacre as they move to diplomatically isolate Syria, and France’s new president is following in the footsteps of his predecessor in pushing for a UN-backed war.
But what exactly happened in Houla? The UN’s new report is adding even more questions than it answers, and is once again throwing the rebels’ version of the event, which has been reported unaltered by US officials, into serious doubt.
The rebel version of the story of the Houla massacre is that Syrian tanks and artillery surrounded the tiny town and started shelling indiscriminately, massacring well over 100 innocent civilians for no apparent reason. Though the death toll seems roughly correct, the UN report revealed that the shelling killed less than 20 people, with the vast majority executed by gunfire at close range.
This of course makes no sense, since the rebel reports from Friday didn’t even have troops entering the town, claiming that rebel forces had chased them away after artillery fire on a protest.
The regime’s account doesn’t make sense either. It claimed that rebel troops had killed all of the civilians with small arms fire, and while such weapons do seem to have killed a large number of people, it insisted that there was no shelling, despite clear evidence of regime shells hitting the town.
In the end we may never know what really happened in Houla, as both sides seem determined to spin patently false versions that lionize their side while demonizing their opponent. Since these narratives have trickled into the rhetoric of the international backers on both sides of this proxy war, there seems little interest in getting at the truth.