Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Alleged Witness Profile: Rasha Whatever

June 5-6, 2018
major additions June 9

I return now to an obscure mystery, mostly solved long ago but worth a re-explanation. It casts doubt on two lodged witness accounts that are basically the same, re-packaged, and along the way ... does much more to help show how fictitious these "Houla Massacre survivors" the UN investigation chose to believe really are.

This gets complicated. I'm following, but I'm not so sure the reader can. Please try. It's very interesting.

Background: Where Rasha Al-Sayed Would Fit In
Remember now the massacre victims were from 4 groups: The majority were named Abdulrazaq, a smaller Al-Sayed families, about the same from other assorted-name civilians, and fewer killed militants included (none of the killed soldiers or "Shabiha" were included). It turns out the other name people were mainly or all related by marriage to the al-Sayeds or mainly to the Abdulrazaqs (mostly as wives, but including some in-laws).

This targeting of two extended families is explained in the "Syrian government" version - the Sayeds were loyalist Sunnis and the Abdulrazaqs converted to Shia Islam. But it's not explained well in the opposition story where opposition Sunnis were picked at random from a town full of them. This is in fact far from random.

The witness under consideration is from the smaller al-Sayed set, and her story tries to double the size of it, perhaps without even realizing it. The ACLOS witnesses for a regime-Shabiha attack includes these 4 Sayed family survivors, still pretty comprehensive as far as I know:
2.1 Ali Al-Sayed, age 11 (stated) (The Guardian, AP, activist video, etc.)
2.2 Maryam Sayid (Der Spiegel)
2.3 Hana Harmut Sayyid (Der Spiegel)
2.4 Rasha al-Sayed Ali, 29 (The Guardian)

Rasha, 2.4, is the subject. Her father should be named Sayed Ali if this were right. But there are no "Ali" family memberas at all listed as killed, to the dozen she reports being murdered in her home. But there are several al-Sayeds she seems to be including herself in, where the name Ali has a peripheral alleged role. As I have from the start, I'll presume the name mix-up is some honest mistake, and call her Rasha Ali Al-Sayed (as meant to be given...)

This would suggest she's a daughter of a man named Ali (middle name) Al-Sayed. Conisder an incomplete listing per VDC: 94 Houla residents killed, plus these 6 Aqrab residents (that's a long and murky story I already covered here, and that we'll actual come back to in this post). There is an adult Ali Adel Al-Sayed listed as dying by the VDC, but not by anyone else (see comparative list ) That's likely a phantom entry resulting from some confusion, which there seems to be plenty of here.
Here's his phantom daughter?

Also, Ali Adel Al-Sayed is the name given by another survivor, for both himself and his slain father, which makes no sense in at least two ways (he's clear on the family and site he refers to, and everyone else on both sides agrees the father was named Aref - and an Ali Adel would not name his son Ali Adel, usually - the other dead kids have Aref as middle names, per the norm). This is just one of many serious problems with this kid's accounts. He's pretty much the star witness for the opposition's Houla Massacre story, which is just to bad for that story.

Here's Ali's 18-years-older phantom sister? He mentions no such sister, and she mentions no such kid surviving in her story. So no, this is some phantom confusion.

So where the hell was Rasha? There are at least 15 Al-Sayed people killed at 3 sites I know of. Listed north-to-south:
- Somewhere in the rebel-held north-center of town was the Oqba Al-Sayed home: 5 killed (Oqba's wife Razeena Rajab Al-Sayed (changed names? that's odd) and 4 kids, but not Oqba, a "retired officer" of something per VDC...) - this spot is out of government reach, within rebel reach.
- On south Main street is the Aref Al-Sayed home: 7+ killed (Aref, wife Izdihar/Fairoz Ali Al-Daher, their 3 young kids, Aref's brother Oqba, brother/nephew Imad/Shaoqi)  - access at this spot is debatable, but Oqba from the north wound up dead here.
- Further south on Main street is the Muawiya Al-Sayed home: 3+ killed (Muawiya, retired police officer, his soldier son Mohamed (on leave, broken leg from the clashes), and 8-year old daughter Sara - a real wife and teen/adult daughter may be missing (killed but not acknowledged, to make room for fake survivors - or is that really them who talked to Der Spiegel?) - access at this spot is debatable. At both Main Street spots, bodies were not removed by oppo. that night, left behind for the army to find and SANA to show in the morning as victims of the terrorist attack in Taldou.

A little more detail than needed in this graphic, but it helps map it out. We're dealing with the red locales here to start. But we'll follow Rasha's story into the magenta area and even through some of those purple related people.

ACLOS list by locale:
- Ali claims to have nearly died at the Aref Al-Sayed home
- Hana Harmut Sayyid are alleged survivors from the Muawiya Al-Sayed home
- Rasha Ali - crawled away from somewhere no one else has reported? Somewhere fake? Two different fake places with two versions of the same family?

Her Story as Rasha Al-Sayed
Rasha Al-Sayed Ali ACLOS section - citing Chulov, the Guardian, June 1, 2012

Rasha, whose family home is in the south of Taldou, told the UK Guardian: "We looked outside and saw the army checking houses in the neighbourhood. They were near the water plant and one of the tanks started firing on our neighbourhood. They were trying to give cover to soldiers who were starting to break into the houses."

She fails to mention they would be holding back the FSA fighters also trying to gain access. Were there two armies competing to enter from different sides? If so, why does she ignore one, like all the other opposition witnesses? No ... there was only one attacking force, and she's either telling it right, or upside-down. Note: The water plant is the hilltop army post, off-frame on the graphic above to the lower right (southeast of town, but not far). This is where shelling with tanks could come from. The Sayed homes on Main Street are a lot closer than the other homes.
Her father answered a knock on the door, unconcerned, but it was Rasha who showed the soldiers her father's ID card proving he was a retired soldier. They didn't seem to care, pushed Rasha and four other women into a corner, beat her father and "shot him in front of us," she said. One explained this was "revenge for you, Imam Ali" (meaning they're Shi'a extremists killing Sunni enemies). She says they decided verbally to kill the children in front of their parents, and shot her in the chest.
But she lived... By her story, there were 15+ people in this home, with 13+ killed (dad, mom, 4 sisters, aunt, 3+ ("all") brothers, sister in law, their baby, a neighbor). Survivors: Rasha, a one-month-old cousin who she found alive.

Clues that she really means Al-Sayed: the retired soldier/officer part really says she means Al-Sayed, where 2/3 of the reported households were headed by retired officers of police and something... and I don't know of anyone in the Abdulrazaq sector with such a distinction. The mentioned closeness to the "water plant" army base supports that. Including "Ali" in her name also supports that.

By age, Rasha is a best fit for Muawiya's home. The "revenge for Imam Ali" part would also make the most sense here (his name plays into that). He's an older man than the others, a retired police colonel, perhaps a soldier too at one point... he had a son Mohamed fighting in the SAA at age 22, I think, killed in the massacre (home on leave with a broken leg from the clashes). A 29-year-old daughter could fit here.

But 3 people are reported as killed here, not 13. And alleged surviving daughter Maryam, age 19-ish by appearance, recalls how they forgot about 8-year-old Sara as she, mom, and a couple other relatives all fled. But she doesn't mention an older sister, and Rasha doesn't mention Maryam. Or maybe... another version of her mentions a sister AND a mother escaping ... see below.

There's simply no room for Rasha in any of the 3 known Al-Sayed homes. And there's no room for a 4th one headed by a third retired officer named Ali, where some 13 people died and 2 escaped. Someone else would have reported that, and no one has.

Is this an alternate attempt to explain the Al-Sayeds as all being in one home? 13+ is similar to tally to all the Sayed family members combined (at least 15, maybe a few more, records are confused). But this might be a coincidence; the gender breakdown of the victims is not eve a close match; Rasha's story has mostly females, both living and dying, while the Sayed segment is more balanced or even man-heavy. To find a workable similarity, we needs to cross the fields and the creek to where the bulk of the killings happened, in the Abdulrazaq homes. There we find a nearly perfect match. point-for-point across this detailed cast of characters.

Her (Same) Story as Rasha Abdulrazaq
I decided after some review in 2014 Rasha had simply changed family names - but not families. Or perhaps there was some honest mix-up, and she always claimed to be Rasha Abdulrazaq, not Sayed, whose father happens to be a rare retired soldier from that segment. As I added to the ACLOS page:
As the one who's been correlating stuff, I'll say this account matches no otherwise supported victim set. "Rasha's" Al-Sayed or Al-Sayed Ali family fell through the cracks, with no records for any such people. By size, it's about the same as the UN's "13-15" overall Al-Sayeds from 3 or more homes. But by details, it's no match for even that. With thirteen people killed in one house, a neighbor involved, a pregnant sister-in-law killed, and a weeks-old infants surviving, it sounds almost like the Rasha Abdulrazaq story transfered to an al-Sayed setting - and she is named Rasha.
Via a May 28 BBC report, this similar Rasha said "We were about 15 people.... We were eight siblings, including myself (4 sisters, 3 brothers), and my sister-in-law and her son - she was also six months pregnant. With us as well were my father, my uncle's wife and her daughter, as well as our neighbor and her three kids." That's 18, the 3 kids added. "My aunt and her two daughters - one of them was only injured and she's here with me - she is one month old, the other one died." Is that the same uncle's wife? Presumably. But 2 daughters = 19 total, the baby one living, only one mentioned in her prior rundown. "We were all in the house" that should be over there on Saad road, further from the army base than Rasha Al-Sayed was.

"I survived with my mother and the one-month-old girl and my sister. They shot at us but we survived." She also says everyone was hiding behind her mother. She's one of the few who lived, Allahu Akbar. She speaks to BBC and says "They thought I was dead. It was thanks to God that I survived. He was shooting my kids and yelling."

This other and slightly earlier Rasha story could be exactly the same told to Chulov a few days later if: she changed the family name - added the retired soldier status for the dad (or didn't mention it at first) - had her mother and sister die instead of escaping with her and the baby - dropped the 3 kids of her neighbor and one cousin from her earlier tally of 19 in the house, for a total of 15 people - but still started out saying "about 15' - Kept the name Rasha (because it's her real name or one she really likes?). In neither version does she mention a husband or children, despite being 29 in one case, if not both.

A surviving mother and daughter drop off her story radar as she switches families between 5-28 and 6-1. Were the actors re-assigned to be the survivors from Muawiya's home, for a total of three former Abdulrazaqs recycled into Al-Sayeds? That seems kind of likely. As the remaining Al-Sayed witnesses not analyzed to death, Hana and Maryam merit more scrutiny if time allows. At least they got put into a home that existed, and aren't as obviously fraudulent as little Ali.

But Rasha here says she's miracle survivor Rasha Whatever, among 15 people or just the same type "plus I forget." but with two names and in two areas. Why? Poor planning, I suppose, some mix-up in the provided instructions - the kind of error that can happen when you're trying to manufacture realities. It's pretty uncommon among people telling the truth, but it happens a lot with opposition witnesses for regime crimes in Syria. This is an extra-bad, but not unprecedented example. And it gets worse.

Is she Rasha Sameer Abdulrazaq, Wife of Fadi Al-Kurdi?
Rasha says her father was shot right in the chin. Sameer Abdulrazaq was not shot in the chin according to 2014 morgue photos (report link below). No men that I can see were. And as Akrama Bakour of the FSA related Sameer's family to the BBC in the same May 28 report, there's no room for Rasha. Still, this must be the family she refers to. The disconnect is fascinating.

Here one final cluster of confusion tackled at once in a big table. With a little poring I think I have this partly decoded, but riddles are still emerging, the more I look. But the more you go over this the clearer it is this is the same batch of people related three different ways. Note how the BBC got Rasha's story and Bakour's story writing her out reported at the same time. Did they notice the bizarre contrast? Also considered is Bakour's story of another set of people named Al-Kurdi killed right before Samir's house.

Note how Bakour names the neighbor kids Kurdi, father Fadi. 4, not 3, and gender unclear. Turns out Fadi Mahmoud al-Kurdi (their dad) is likely the son of Mahmoud Omar Al-Kurdi, the shepherd who happened to be killed nearby. So these 4 "grandsons" are double-listed.

These are the also Aqrab residents: The 2014 Morgue photos report includes "91- Mahmoud Omer Al-kurdi, 45 years old, father, he was resident of Aqrab village and lived in place where massacred happened. (no picture)" So ... the massacre happened partly in Aqrab? Other sources say yes, and tortured there, by "Shabiha." (see added comment here.) Bakour says he and the others were just near the "entrance" of Taldou. But the kids were also IN the house... The VDC lists the Kurdi kids as from Aqrab. They and others also list Mahmoud's wife, Zainab Arouq (reported alive at first, dead elsewhere).

Mahmoud was in or near the home or whatever - he's included in this just like his grandkids and their mother. The 4 grandkids are usually listed a 3 boys, or 2 boys and a girl (2014 morgue photos report) or, altogether, 3 boys and a girl: Mahmoud (named for Grandpa), Omar, Mohamed (baby), and Zeynab (named for grandma). All names are followed by Fadi Al-Kurdi.

The gender-number-unclear neighbor "kids" sound kind of like the same, even without the these other correlating clues. The mother of 3 who died becomes the mother of 4 who survived. In no version is she given a name, but in Bakour's version, she survived the shots. Keep that in mind.

The coup d'grace: note there is no surviving daughter for Samir when there clearly should be. There are no sons mentioned, and just 4 daughters, all dead. The morgue photos used for this 2014 report includes all 4, dead in photos and just like Bakour says, along with dad and no sons shown or named (suggesting she lived - according to the people making that list). But Rasha's direct stories have an implied three brothers, but always unnamed. And the one 6-months pregnant daughter-in-law is there, with baby, dead. Aunt dead, two daughters, one surviving. Mom survived. This is all agreed and sounds like the same household, in slightly different versions; Rasha Abdulrazaq's home was Sameer Abdulrazaq's home. One surviving sister is disagreed between Rasha and Bakour, besides Rasha herself, and her brothers. And also where's the neighbor lady who died, the mother of those kids?

The brother's don't appear, but Rasha might. Even as Bakour writes her out, he seems to write her right back in, in a difretent role. The mother of the Kurdi kids in his house survived. Like Rasha, she was shot (but perhaps not in the same area/s, as claimed with no visuals: he says thigh and belly, while Rasha said chest). Bakour says this didn't happen in the home, but whatever. This mystery woman is the daughter-IN-LAW of the elder Kurdi, so the DAUGHTER of ... Sameer Abdulrazaq, perhaps?

If so, Rasha is the same person as the un-named surviving mother of the Kurdi kids in Bakour's version. She's the link between one targeted section and another, and with murders way up in Aqrab. (Aqrab was government-held, but Islamist parties were present, and would be capable of abducting people here and there). If so, both of Rasha's own version would have her calling herself a dead, unnamed neighbor, and ignoring her own kids in the version where she was an Al-Sayed.

Considering the general malleability of this record so far, this isn't outlandish at all. We could safely say those aren't her kids, that wasn't her in any role in any of those fake stories. Is this witness Rasha Sameer Abdulrazaq, wife of Fadi Al-Kurdi? No. But someone was. When she was just a neighbor, she was reported dead. She likely did not survive, and is either listed as one of the couple unplaced female victims, or was left off the lists. Or perhaps the killers spared that real woman for some other fate in secret captivity. This happens with unknown frequency. But either way, she won't be left around, and that's a blank spot someone filled with this impostor, Rasha Whatever.

Intermarriage Side-notes (added June 9)
Rasha wouldn't be THE link to the Kurdi familiy anyway, just one of three. FSA's Akrama Bakour reported 2 women named Khalaf killed: Khaloud was Samir's sister-in-law (married his brother). Haloum married one of his sons, was the mother of a young boy and pregnant with another. So one brother married one Khalaf, and a son married another.
But other lists say instead (compared entries):
Arabic Correlated list   – 2014 morgue photos list  - VDC database entries
- Khalida Hussein Al-Kurdi  - n/l     - Khloud Hussien Al-Kurdi
- Halloumi Khaled Al-Kurdi  -Haloum Khaled Al-kurdi, 20  - Haloum Khalid Al-Kurdi

Haloum (no picture) appears in the 2014 list as the killed mother in the Alaa Sameer Abed Al-Razaq family. Alaa is not listed as killed, but he'll be the married brother Rasha claims dead along with 2 other brothers that Bakour and others (like the people making the list) deny or ignore. Their baby son would not be named Alaa as usually given - it would be his middle name. In fact, by this, he was named for grandpa: Sameer Alaa Abed Al-razaq, 2 years old, son.

Khaloud Al-Kurdi is listed by the VDC and by early Arabic lists, but is not included in the 2014 morgue photos list. Her daughter Rahaf who died is likewise listed everywhere but that 2014 list.

So a brother, a son, and a daughter of Samir each married someone named Al-Kurdi, and this was variously scrambled, with people left off and one explicitly replaced with an imposter. BTW Samir's own wife who allegedly lived is never named. Is she a Kurdi too?

Another mystery: Hussein. If Khaloud Kurdi was Samir's sister-in-law, it suggests she married his brother, an Abdulrazaq. So the children should be named (personal name) (father's personal name) Abdulrazaq. Instead, daughters Rahaf and Zahra are given the last name Hussein in Bakour's rundown. Likewise, opposition lists give that name; the VDC lists Rahaf Mohammad Al-Hussen as dying (they don't have an alleged survivors database to check for Zahra)

This isn't a major point, but I suspect it's an error; Husein being a middle name taken as last because the last name was left off. Even the VDC entry could be explained by that; fuller names may include father's middle name as well, for 4 names. In fact I propose she was named Rahaf Mohamed Hussein Abdulrazaq, daughter of Mohamed Hussein Abdulrazaq. Checking … that's his brother's middle name: 15- Sameer Houseen Abed Al-razaq, 45 years old, father. So that's a really good guess, and Hussein mystery seems solved.

Rasha Yet Again, On Video? (added June 9)
This article so far is short on images - none showing this Rasha have been clearly matched but … there's a video analyzed at ACLOS. If this is another example in the series (seems likely), it's likely the earliest: filmed by frontline FSA activists (acomplices to any terrorist crimes like mass murder or kidnapping), likely the day after, May 26. (checking: they give May 27 - still earlier than either account above on 5-28 and 6-1).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXAgHmsqYcg (terminated account)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsjmalW91Ks (working copy, with many skeptical comments)
By my notes, mostly from the provided English subtitles, there were 5 females appearing as survivors of what might be 2 seperate massacre sites, or one - the clues are mixed. I considered it an unclear line-up, but on reflection, I think this is part of the same effort to explain about 1/5 of the Abdulrazaq victims with one most-told story, and the differences are from this being a first-run they improved over the following days.

1) The first to speak is this young woman from "Saad neighborhood" (Abdulrazaq massacre area), bedridden with a lot of her blood pouring into a coffee can from a tube in her arm. She says Shabiha killed her whole family, which she gives as:
- father and mother, both killed
- 7 out of of 8 siblings (9 total, one more than Rasha would claim). 7 sisters and her one brother. Only she lived.
No one else is mentioned, but it's a brief account. Was the one brother married? She thanks the FSA for coming along soon after the massacre to save her, otherwise she too would be dead now. Asked if the government claims that "armed gangs" did this, she swears "That's a lie. They're all Shabiha pieces of sh*t. They're Assad's men."

2) A pregnant woman is in the bed with her, also set for donating blood, if not draining yet (unclear). At 2:10 she's demanding the regime's fall, no matter how long, no matter how many women and children have to die first. To emphasize the point, she refers to the baby there with her: "like this baby girl. What did she do to deserve this, to die at one and a half months old?" (She didn't die, yet. Possible mistranslation.) At 2:22 she tells her story: "I was standing at the door to my room. I'd only been married for four months. The baby I'm carrying would have been killed along with me." That's it, except "the only one who has any weapons is that pig Bashar! And his army and Shabbiha." Here the pregnant sister-in-law Haloum al-Kurdi survived along with Rasha, likewise suffering a wound?

3) the infant, said 1.5 months old, also draining blood from her tiny abdomen into a collection canister. How can that not be Zahra al-Hussein? Were there two 1.5-month old girls who each survived a massacre in two out of something like 9 or 10 targeted homes in the same area? The salafist cameraman says her mother, father, and brothers were all killed, which wouldn't be correct (just mother and one sister) but he might just mean orphan, lost whoever. He asks us "is she a terrorist? Does she have an RPG? What kind of people would do this, other than Assad's Shabiha? No gang in the world is more criminal, more shameless than Assad's."

4) next is a woman introduced as the infant's aunt. If her direct sister was the baby's mother, and the baby is Zahra, she should be named (personal name) Hussein Al-Kurdi. Otherwise, she sounds a lot like Samir's wife, survived version - even though the possible Rasha here just said her mom died, and this lady disowns the link from her end too. Otherwise:

"There were 12 people in the house and they killed them all. This is my sister's baby daughter. They killed her mother, but my niece survived." 12 killed in a house, perhaps with a pregnant woman, a surviving 1.5 month old girl... If 12 killed, 2-5 of these females surviving, it's a 15-17 member household - compared to a 15-19-member one at Samir's, with 2-4 surviving females.

This lady claims she too was there, as head female of the household:
- "I watched them beat my husband in the head until his brains spilled out. After that, they shot him."
- "Then they killed my four daughters." (not 7 of 8 but all 4 like Samir had - and as with the Rasha story, vanishing/absent brothers - no room Rasha - they don't refer to the same place, or they aren't coordinated well)
- "And my daughter in law (son's wife) and both of her kids." As with the Rasha story, no sons killed, despite a daughter-in-law... (Haloum Al-Kurdi and little Samir? one too many kids, unless she means fetus - that's a point against that being her in the bed...)
- "And my cousin and her four kids." (the Fadi Al-Kurdi kids and their mom (Rasha?)? If so, all 5 are dead here - no room for Rasha there either)
- "And my sister-in-law as well" (Samir's brother's wife, Khaloud Kurdi and Rahaf MH Abdulrazaq?no other person more like "sister" - that must be her above, with the surviving baby. It' spossible she's also her blood sister, but maybe in-law is what she meant.)
- "They were all killed. They thought I was dead. That's what spared me, and let me get out alive." Compare to Rasha Abdulrazaq's mother: "They thought I was dead. It was thanks to God that I survived."
commentary: "Alawites. Pigs. They're the ones who killed us." A quoted cheer: "with these guns we killed a hundred, oh Ali!"
That's all remarkably similar to the unnamed wife of Samir Abdulrazaq, survived version, likely Al-Kurdi version too (for 4 points of intermarriage if so). (And again, this would be someone probably posing as this wife, who gets reported dead anyway half the time. She could have a different actress for every interview. But the script remains mostly the same each time... same goes for the person most like Rasha here, who looks younger than the 29 claimed by "Rasha Al Sayed Ali," who later told the same basic story.

5) Another niece (unnamed): At 3:52 the aunt briefly pauses between explaining her own survival and swearing to God about all of it, to address a little yellow-clad imp standing patiently behind her. "...and this little girl, my niece, was hiding among the bedding." (Possibly Rasha's surviving sister? Just an improvised add-on not worth correlating? Another coincidence of two eerily similar stories?

5 in this group alone, plus the 2-4 females from Samir's house, be that one scene or two,. plus the others like Ali, Abu Firas, etc. makes this attempted liquidation look rather sloppy as well as self-demonizing. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

How Terrorists were Given Al-Houla in Response to Their Massacre There

Marking Six Years Since the "Houla Massacre" in Taldou
June 3, 2018
(first posted at Monitor Blog May 23-24, 2018)

Al-Houla: At Last! Liberated, or Lost, Depending...
I've been swamped and bottlenecked lately, but this year especially I must pause and leave that clogged. It's time to mark the 6th anniversary of the infamous Houla Massacre. That event on May 25, 2012, is what caught my attention to start studying events in Syria, inspiring me to suggest a collaborative research website. My ally "CE" set up the wiki-format site A Closer Look On Syria in June, 2012. She and I and Petri Krohn (the first 3 core members) focused on the Houla Massacre heavily, besides other things, and soon developed an unusual mastery of the evidence most people barely knew.

Every year since, I've marked the anniversary in some way, at first with detailed PDF reports in 2013 and 2014 (see last year's commemoration with a summary of the previous ones if curious). Mostly these have repeated the same message in different ways. But year six is different. For the first time since mid-2012, Al-Houla is back under government control, as of about a week ago. Here's the Houla-Rastan pocket as it stood April 18 (Peto Lucem map), at the start of the SAA operation to close it. A month later, the effort was complete. All green is now gone, and all orange lines of contest have fizzled away. The Houla area is the north-south strip at the west edge of this pocket, containing Tal Dahab, Kafr Laha, and Taldou.

Shortcut for news; from ACLOS's well-maintained Syria News feed (and I don't even do any of that! except sometimes - should more):

16 May. Syrian flags are raised in Rastan and Talbiseh after the evacuation process in the east and center of the Rastan pocket has successfully been completed (map). According to later reports, the western part of the pocket around the Houla plains is also already in government hands, which would make the Rastan pocket history. The so-called Houla massacre of May 2012 was the event that led to the creation of this wiki, so seeing that place out of "rebel" hands for the first time in six years certainly is something that inspires our curiosity.

18 May: According to SANA National Flag hoisted over Aqrab town in Hama countryside

19 May: SANA publishes images allegedly showing locals greeting the army in the towns of the Houla plains. Technicians are repairing the former pocket's power grid.

One of the photos:

Not everybody's happy. For example:
تحيا الثورة أنقذوا درعا
@VivaRevolt May 16
Also,another painful aspect of this lost,is that Al-Houla and its villages will go back to Regime control,these villages witnessed the most sectarian-motivated and barbaric massacre ever witnessed,the Houla Massacre,the regime will desecrate the area and begin fabrications

There were worse one, but point taken. Indeed, fresh stories may emerge now. But fabrications about the Houla massacre date back to the event itself, though opinions differ on which set of witnesses was making it up.

May 25: Houla FSA Breaks Into Taldou
Of course I've been trying to fight what I see as the lies since the start. Let's start with one place I was able to bring a little improvement to was at the Houla Massacre Wikipedia article, background section anyway. This had cited Al-Jazeera to explain how Al-Houla was a singular rebel-held Sunni "town" that was attacked by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) on May 25, chasing out the FSA defenders prior to the massacre committed by local Alawite "Shabiha." I corrected this part a year or two ago, and now... it remains pretty fair or even unchanged (bolding added here):

Al-Houla is an area mainly comprising three towns named, as given north-to-south in the UN's June report, Tal Addahab, Kafr Laha and Taldou. They report the towns have a combined population of more than 100,000 "of which the majority is Sunni Muslim," but are "ringed by Shia villages to the southeast, and Alawi villages to the southwest and the north."

(adding here: a graphic for that)

Houla was a regular protest hub, even before army defectors formed the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian army had been accused of raiding and killing protesters in the Houla region before. But by May, 2012 FSA or allied rebels were in general control of the area, according to both pro-government (acceptable citation needed) and anti-government sources. Der Spiegel was told over the winter "a unit of the Free Syrian Army took up residence (in Houla) and it has been considered liberated since then" although the state's army still controlled "roads into the town." [29] The UN's investigators only really considered Taldou, the southernmost town in Houla, and found "opposition forces may have been in control of parts of the city, mostly in the north." [26]

According to Al Jazeera's correspondent Hadi al-Abdallah, this FSA control of Houla is why the Syrian Army was unable to enter on May 25, and had to shell it from a distance prior to the massacre.[20] However, the UN's June report noted "Government forces are present in Al-Houla" with "fortified checkpoints" they show on an attached map. This shows only the south end of Taldou, between rebel-held Houla and the Alawi and Shia villages. All the reported massacre sites, also labeled on that map, are in this immediate area of Taldou.[26]
Cited here and below: UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) reports (June, 2012 interim report - August final report )

So, a twist few people ever learned of; the massacre happened in an area the army already controlled. They wouldn't need to shell it in order to gain access.

I need to add (or re-add?) this important part about the CoI's findings: two of those five security posts were militarily overrun in a FSA/Islamist offensive on May 25. Their first report heard of a protest that came under shelling attack, and decided vaguely: “Either in retaliation, or in a premeditated attack, anti-Government armed groups, including the FSA present in Taldou, fired upon the security forces checkpoints, probably overrunning one or two of them. Several people were killed in these clashes or as a result of the shelling...” This includes some rebel fighters, and some 5 or 6 soldiers at least were killed, with an unclear number of others captured. But the investigators seem to feel the government wound up on top and did the massacre anyway.

Upon review of the evidence, "probably overrunning one or two" posts means almost surely taking out two of them - and this is an "at least" number, not "at most." The CoI “determined that the clocktower checkpoint was overrun at some point” in the day. (p.10) They didn't go into detail, but a witness says he FSA fully neutralized it around 7:00 PM, but the post was distracted by attacks and bypassed earlier, around 2 P.M.. Video of the scene later shows the place scarred with gunfire, with abandoned military vehicles and sandbagged positions. It would have been no small feat to overrun this. But as The map at the end of the CoI's June report says, it was "overrun by anti-gov't forces."

Later videos show some of the fighting in a mysterious, undated "battle to liberate freedom circle," which this central roundabout came to be called after May 25. It seems that battle was on this day, and is the offensive the CoI refers to, and the videos were delayed in their release just to make the date less obvious. 

Further south down Taldou's Main Street is the secured military intelligence headquarters (MIHQ). The map at the end of the UN CoI's June report has this labeled “Military Intelligence Post (likely overrun by anti-gov't forces).”  They acknowledge in the report a “new front line” that was only “north of the (Qaws) checkpoint,” not clearly at MIHQ. In videos, we see burned building, burned military vehicles out front, and anti-Assad graffiti by the day after. It was clearly overrun, and FSA would have access halfway down main street, at least (see map below).

The investigators decided ultimately that this was all a coincidence, but here's the situation as they would put it (my map based on theirs and other info). The northern majority of town was already FSA-held, and by sometime on May 25 the white posts were knocked out, with dependent areas now open to them; Saad Road especially where the bulk of victims lived.

Orange posts, the investigators decided, still blocked their way as possible, shielding the Sayed families. The Water co. base with heavy wepons and elevation, could shell targets anywhere below, but would be a bit too crude to halt foot soldiers running house-to house. Army snipers at the hospital would likely stop rebels from killing anyone on Saad Road, the Commission reasoned.

In fact, the government's continued control of this part of the "rebel-held town" was key to their finding  “reasonable basis to believe that the perpetrators (of the massacre)... were aligned to the Government.”  (p.67) It seemed unlikely anyone else could gain access.

And the army or Shabiha also might have gotten around the suddenly-rebel-controlled majority of town to kill the Abdulrazaq families over on Saad Road. In fact, they must have, presumably on foot across the fields (the creek would be fairly low...). Because after all, who else but the proven killers over on army-controlled Main Street would be going around killing whole families? I hope we can see how poor this reasoning is at inspiring confidence. Most of those relying on the CoI as the final word never even bother to dig into the mechanics like this.

What the UN investigators missed was the evidence that the two other posts on Main Street were also either overrun or circumvented as a consequence of the rebel-initiated conflict of May 25. The one that matters most is the National Hospital, with those snipers helping secure the area. But between video evidence and credible accounts (those in agreement with the video), it seem like someone suddenly changed the management there and set the hospital on fire around sunset on May 25. The best explanation of that is still this 2014 report:

The Battle for the Houla Massacre: the video evidence explained, and the rest re-considered
(I'm open to relevant challenges at this debate spot, or this on-site mirror, or wherever, so long as I'm made aware, I'll check any attempted counter-argument for relevance and accuracy. No takers yet. The challenge has been up for about four years.)

With flawed reasoning (as explained throughout my report, and sharply summarized on p 56/57), the CoI decided the army held this area on Main Street the FSA never quite got to. They half-acknowledge the FSA had control up to the MIHQ, and after that, the nearby mobile post at the qaws (arches) "demarcated the new front line between the opposition and Government forces." (p.66)

This post seems to usually consist of a pickup truck with soldiers in it parked on the side of the street at the arches marking the old city entrance. It's not even clear if it was manned 24/7. Mobile “front lines” are problematic, having the option to simply move out of the way if it became clear they couldn't hold their position. the CoI had acknowledged on its map "Qaws (mobile - maybe further south)." That is, for all they know, the soldiers may have pulled back some distance under the assault. They could retreat about 120 meters and take a new position at the Sayed family's front door, or further yet. No alleged witnesses say what happened here; these soldiers may have retreated at some point, could be among those killed or captured, or they may have held out. Then, perhaps they halted any advance to the south, or perhaps they were circumvented.  

But here's some evidence the arches were gotten through or around, one way or another; the National Hospital seems to be at least partly on fire by sunset. Something on that line of sight is billowing black smoke, apparently just for a few moments so far. It does seem the qaws post is active at this time, however, and shooting back at the FSA attackers (see below).

Ambassador Jaafari at least reported the terrorists had attacked and burned the hospital in their offensive (see here 5:00, but confused about "another village" - other witnesses report the hospital's burning and perhaps a massacre there, or at least the killing of a soldier believed to be a non-Sunni. A SANA animation ACLOS looked at showed attackers driving down the hill from the east, apparently as the Water Co. base on the hill was distracted, and it was they who attacked the hospital, entirely south of the arches post.

Anyway, the army post at the hospital apparently didn't hold. The massacre site across the street would be just as wide open. Here, a government-supporting former policeman Muawiya al-Sayed lived. He was killed alongside his adult son and 8-year-old daughter. The son was an army soldier on leave with a broken leg. The killers gouged his eyes out. (it's alleged the Shabiha targetde these al-Sayeds just for being Sunnis and the father's extremely Sunni name. There is backstory to why Shia dislike the name Muawiya, but as a reason the massacre a loyal family, it really pales. 

Some alleged army shelling was shown on video, but it's mostly vague, and could be part of the FSA offensive. The only time we can see where any of the shelling is coming from, it's clearly that. This guy in the activist crowd carries an RPG launcher, and goes ignored as he fires 3+ shells, very loudly, at something off-frame.  (analysis video) ... all in an area of free rebel access on northern Saad Road (B on the map above), south of the overrun clocktower post (just now liberated "freedom circle"). It's about 6:15 pm by solar angles, claimed as May 25 and posted that day as evidence of the massacre, and widely-cited as such. It was maybe the best video of the "shelling" they published at the time.

Activists here ignore the man firing weapons as they load the bodies of four men into a van that drives south; the Abdulrazaq family was being slaughtered a ways south on this unprotected street around then or earlier, and those same 4 bodies are shown later amongst the Abdulrazaq family victims. This all proves mobile opposition access in this whole area, something the UN's CoI dithered over and finally decided against. 

Some bullets can be seen flying from the mobile post near the arches at sunset. But these come in response to protesters with AK-47s firing at them from behind this corner. it's 170 meters north of the Qaws, and just down and across the street from MIHQ, which is clearly no threat to the gunmen (that is, it's been overrun). This is the same video where we can see the hospital burning further south behind the qaws. So either they were gotten around, or this is a staged scene where rebels shoot at each other to fake such resistance. (this is also a June-posted video, but again, it's from the "freedom circle" battle.)  

But it could be the soldiers at the qaws held out, or this truck was intentionally left intact as a security post. If it were just distracted with defense, as they would be per that video, some other guys could have snuck on foot far around it, moving south. Armed with guns and knives, they could easily overcome the defenses at the Al-Sayed family homes and slaughter the people.

They might leave the bodies if they came on foot, but it seems likely attackers in vehicles were in the area, assaulting the hospital at least. Maybe they would opt to leave the bodies anyway, as proof the government had control, and must have done it. Whatever the reason, while rebels did recover most bodies, at the Abdulrazaq sites and other scattered locales, the Al-Sayeds were left behind and filmed by SANA in the morning as victims of the terrorist massacre (at right, two head-shot sons of Aref al-Sayed, - brothers, allegedly, of fake miracle survivor Ali al-Sayed - UNSMIS investigators sided with the opposition claims, helped some activists claiming to be family load these 7 bodies in the morning and take them to the anonymous mass grave in the north of Taldou).

Standing Up for Rebel-Held Al-Houla

In a news video for ITV/CNN (YouTube) Alex Thomson reports from Taldou with Syrian troops, apparently on May 27, at spots on Main Street that were government-secured on the 24th. Now, as Thomson notes, they SAA are here but not in control, and are in fact "very scared." They get pinned down under sniper fire, taking cover as they can. One had been shot and carried away; we're shown his fresh blood on the pavement. An old man recently executed by somebody is shown, mostly covered with a blanket. Two frames at right: first moving in behind a tank, well south of the arches (visible up the street), later from the burned-out APCs at MIHQ (see map above)

This is the Syrian Army clawing to re-gain control of Taldou. All signs suggest they lost control on 25 May. But as we know, the world community was told a different story at the time.

Al-Jazeera first reported on at least 90 killed in "Houla, a town ... after government forces tried to break into the town." But later we'd learn the army was already in control of the killing sites, that control in fact being central to the UN investigators. In fact it was the FSA that tried to break in. BBC news reported "according to activists and eyewitnesses interviewed by the BBC, other media and human rights groups, army shelling paved the way for a concerted ground attack by the shabiha." The way didn't need paved. It was nice and smooth already. All the violence of that day just made the pavement in their controlled area covered in rubble, and partially rebel-held.

The UN Security Council seemed to be missing some details as well, declaring the massacre "involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood" and they "again demanded that President Bashar al-Assad withdraw heavy weapons from Syrian towns." (VoA News) The massacre part was less uniformly condemned; Russia and China seemed to think the FSA or allies had perhaps done it, despite the government shelling. Western and allied nations were clear the shelling proved government guilt for itself and anything that followed. US "Ambassador" Robert Ford called the massacre "the most unambiguous indictment of the regime to date," based mainly on its coming "after the vicious assault involving tanks and artillery – weapons that only the regime possesses."

But the UN CoI's consulted experts felt the damage looked like "heavy mortars, heavy machine guns or light artillery," with nothing about heavy artillery or tanks or Scud missiles. Larger mortars, RPGs, and maybe heavy anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks, which attacking rebels would likely have, reportedly had, or were seen using, could explain all of the heaviest damage seen. 

My first Houla debunk was of a desperate effort by the BBC to prove heavy artillery was involved. It was this easy:

Nothing about the damage proves it was something only the government had at the time. It's down to verbal claims and considerations of motive, etc. 

And what apparently was unclear to the Security Council, Russians included, is the "residential neighborhood" that mattered was under government control to start with. Why would they shell their own wards, at the same time as a rebel offensive on that same area, which the Security Council seemingly ignored? There's still no good answer to this question. And much of that damage was to security posts which they ... must have shelled on accident? 

So ... the world tells Syria Houla is hands-off - leave that FSA-held Sunni village alone. As they moved to underwrite their permanent lease, they didn't seem to realize the Islamist fighters had just seized that last bloody part of Houla. Those in charge of Taldou were best placed to launch the massacre there. Did they realize how likely it was they were rewarding the perpetrators, rather than holding them to account as they insisted was their main goal?

Syria could have ignored these insane demands, but it was maybe too big a pain anyway to reclaim and hold even half of Taldou, so long as Houla in general was run by the terrorists. So the government let it go. The exact details are still unclear to me - maybe they re-claimed the hospital, etc. I'm sure the hilltop "Water co." base remained, along with checkpoints forming a ring around southern Taldou, still protecting the Alawi and Shia villages from raids by the Sunni extremists running wild over Houla.

In December, 2012, Houla rebels broke the northerm cordon, and conquered Aqrab, adding that to their holdings, and cleansing the town's Alawite district with warning and then a massacre, a mass-kidnapping of 500 remaining civilians, and perhaps another massacre of many of these, which rebels blamed weakly on Shabiha and the army (ACLOS: Aqrab Massacre). Alex Thomson came back to the area to report for Channel 4 News, and he was not convinced by the story the Houla rebels told. Either way, the army was gone and the FSA in charge, and so it became 'hands off the Sunni rebel town of Aqrab' as well, but this time with no massacre verified to condemn anyone over.

But after this, that's about how it was until the recent liberation of the area nearly six years later. The danger was contained to a certain area - one this danger had no right to, but which outside powers conspired to help it secure.

Re-Considering Who Were the Original Fabricators
Most of what the world thought it knew about the Houla Massacre came from opposition-supplied alleged witnesses and miracle survivors - an awful lot of them, with often silly stories full of conflicting details. There was always another class of witnesses that denied that story in some detail, but they were telling fabrications, most people decided. These spoke on SANA news, to Abkhazian ANNA News and the late Marat Musin, to UNSMIS monitors, and to other media, investigators, and activists (overview at ACLOS).

These people all claimed Taldou was largely secured by the government up to that day, and had been mostly peaceful until it came under attack that afternoon by heavily-armed "terrorists". These forces included some 6-800 men from Houla, Rastan, and further off, even from overseas. The FSA' notorious Farouq Brigade was specified as involved, and many believed Al-Qaeda's nascent Al-Nusra Front was too. Syria's UN representative Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari called it “a full-fledged military operation planned in advance,” coming in waves over nine hours, blazing through with “pickup cars loaded with heavy weapons […] the Libyan way you saw a couple months ago.” 

A pro-government witness - "Arifah" as we at ACLOS dubbed her (top) - told SANA via ANNA how terrorists fired on the clocktower (aka roundabout) army post and/or Baath Party headquarters in central Taldou (see map above).  She says this started around 1 or 2 pm and ran for a while. They fired from the northwest - with a mortar and then heavy machine guns, in what seems a distraction to allow terrorists to move down Saad road. (note: she doesn't seem to have witnessed all this personally, but is mixing what little she saw with things she learned - or was told to say, whatever).

Below her is a scene from a video of Arabad Bin Souriyeh battalion fighters, firing a larger caliber machine gun (not quite the "heavy" the CoI referred to)  southeast, towards just those targets from a nearby alley to the northwest (clearly geo-located). It's about 1:25 pm by sunlight angles. The one firing here takes return fire from the army, hitting him in the belly, and he's carried away. (see 2014 report, exhibit A.3 and Note: times given in the 2014 report were calculated wrong, given as one hour ahead, so this is said to be 2:25 pm. Apologies.)

This video was posted weeks later, but is described as from the battalion's "battle to liberate freedom circle" (the roundabout army post). So it's almost certainly May 25, the only known time that was "liberated." (see 2014 report, the June Videos issue.) And if this is another day, it's one where just what "Arifah" describes unfolded at the same time of the day. And she didn't fit her story to the video - it was first posted June 23, and the ANNA News interviews were published June 3. 

Collectively, these other class of witnesses have claimed the victorious terrorists killed Sunnis who supported the government, and more yet who had converted to Shia Islam. Then they snatched away the bodies to make videos using them as evidence for false claims. This was all shrugged off of course. We all just knew what happened in the Sunni village of Houla - the guys with the bodies had explained it all. Ambassadors were expelled, sanctions placed, and aid to the protesters increased over the story they told about the Army invasion of the Sunni town of al-Houla.

But it turns out logic, the video record, etc. agrees with SANA/ANNA witnesses, who described the day's fighting fairly well, whereas those reporting a Shabiha massacre don't mention the "freedom circle" battle at all - just unprovoked army shelling seemingly swapped in to replace it. The others explain, with some claimed evidence, that the terrorists just coached their family members to play witnesses to the foreign media. This can hardly ever be proven, but in fact that sounds exactly right, having analyzed what several dozen miracle survivors say. Some of them can't even keep a straight face as they tell their story, and others might be grinning like mad under their Islamist veils.

For Ali (3rd row left and right), wow ... see "Fight for us" and other things Ali said. He was and remains the star witness for the whole thing. He can remember a LIST of his alleged family member's names, but not WHO each name attaches to (father, brother, and uncles). He has a lot of other continuity mistakes between the too-many "testimony" sessions he was booked for. But that one really sunk it for me on first sight in June, 2012, just digging a bit and using common sense. 

This FSA guy gives two completely different stories, one where he's not FSA but was innocently near the crime scene, and another where he's FSA but was fa from the scene - other FSA guys who were there gave him all these details he heard. Except the Shabiha walking back to Foulah part, which he and everyone watched - but which no one filmed.  Both accounts were given to Der Spiegel, for the same report. see here.

That's enough for now, right?