Our broad study of all sources remains stuck on the issue of who did it, but broadly, there's agreement on most of the when questions. It was around 1-2 PM, just after noon prayers, when the rebel attack or the army shelling began. With one side or another chased off or circumvented, someone moved onto Saad street and started massacring the Abdulrazaq families, the majority of the dead, somewhere between 2:30 and 5:30 PM, wrapping up by 6-7:30 PM. Around 11 PM the army either regained control of the massacre area, or still had control like they always did but just then started the smaller massacres on Main Street. By morning all bodies not at the main street sites were gathered by rebels with free access.
A few outlying sources disagree with this broad general consensus. but two I only stumbled on recently are incredibly out of whack with all else. I'm glad we didn't start with these, as it would have gotten us even more confused at first and even slower to make sense of stuff.
Der Spiegel (English) published a report on May 28 by Ulrike Putz in Beirut, citing "at least 109" dead that contains a whole different narrative, I think, from any we've considered.
During the demonstrations, as had often happened in recent months, army snipers opened fire on the protesters, an eyewitness told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Several people were killed in the salvos and demonstrators dispersed.
As the afternoon progressed, the FSA unit, under the leadership of a commander named Mahmud,* decided to take revenge for the deaths. As night fell, the rebel fighters attacked all regime checkpoints in and around the village. Up to this point, the official government version of events is in accordance with these reports, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad al-Maqdisi saying that on Friday afternoon "from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m." there were attacks from "terrorists" against regime troops stationed there.
....An eyewitness reported that the FSA unit suffered significant casualties during their offensive before committing a decisive tactical error. Instead of holding their position in the village, Mahmud elected to withdraw his unit, leaving the villagers unprotected.* Mahmoud Al-Houli, FSA activist?
At roughtly 11:30 p.m., the Syrian military then began its bombardment of the village, firing tank shells and mortars into town. One witness claimed that rockets were used as well. Most of the casualties occurred during the bombardment, the eyewitness says. But the eyewitness, whose account could not be independently verified, says that 26 victims were killed by regime supporters who entered Houla during breaks in the bombardment. Many of the perpetrators, the witness claims, came from the surrounding villages.
So instead: snipers at the protest, a rebel offensive and no massacre during the early massacre span, then shelling and rebel retreat only near midnight, not mid-day. Mass shelling deaths, and a few executions by Shabiha types followed, all late at night. This odd assemblage agreed with government reports up to a point, but clearly cut off short of the core assertion that rebels conducted a massacre, and even claims the opposite, to a point.
A later report was already clarifying the regime blame, and criticizing the FAZ claims of a rebel rampage. On June 19 they ran Christof Reuter's report citing a few witnesses who all saw the Shabiha drive and/or walk up from Fullah, as soon as the Army shelling stopped. Since they walked, they must be from there and probably were Shabiha, and he asks why would rebels kill their own supporters? One alleged witness he believed entirely was Ayman Abdulrazaq (aka Hassan, Abu Firas, killed by some reports). The New Century Foundation contacted Spiegel about these somewhat contradictory reports (see here seemingly overrating the discrepancy). They received a defense of the later report, but no authority to quote anyone. And of course a couple week later they were publishing Reuter's collaborative project with numerous interviews of rebel-supplied alleged witnesses, laced with its own internal contradictions...
Summary: the May 28 piece is an early report of a late massacre following the rebel rampage they almost acknowledged (and that more closely coincides with the bulk of the killings and which video proves!). It has value in showing what might be an abandoned early effort to provide a comprehensive rebel narrative.
"Rawan": Massacre in the morning, massacre at night
Now consider that alongside another much later report I just caught, described as coming directly from an eyewitness to events of May 28 [sic]. Syria Direct, Oct. 22, 2013:‘Men returned from prayer to find their families killed’ "Rawan" is now a nurse in the Al-Aisha refugee camp. A once-neutral Sunni, she "lived among Alawites in al-Houla," which everyone else agrees was effectively Alawite-free. But then "on May 28, 2012," she was radicalized, when she "witnessed the United Nations-condemned al-Houla massacre, where the Syrian regime and the shabiha are reported to have summarily executed at least 108 people in two separate incidents, mostly women and children." She clarifies:
The perpetrators of the Al-Houla massacre are the residents of Al-Houla. The shabiha [pro-Assad militias] are our neighbors, people who used to eat and drink with us.
As for the "two separate incidents," it's not the Abdulrazaqs in broad daylight and the al-Sayeds after dark. No, in her nameless version, the Sunni women and children victims were all herded together in one area in the morning, raped and then burned alive. Then the men - who had been away praying - not fighting or even protesting - were killed at night, after they "went mad" and launched an afternoon-evening offensive (not rampage) in revenge.
The massacre happened on a Friday, when all the men were in the mosque, praying. The shabiha called the regime and told them that all the men were in the mosque, that the houses were empty of men. They took their orders from the regime and went to people’s homes. There were around 50 of them, or more; I saw them with my own eyes. They were going to houses, killing women and children in the morning. Reports say 100 women and children were killed.
After they finished, they called the security forces and told them the operation had been completed successfully. All the men returned from prayer to find their families killed. They went mad, and decided to exact revenge. They gathered at the mosque, and the shabiha surrounded them and killed them all. By a miracle, some survived.
Imagine gathering all the women and children and raping them. They didn’t have enough time to kill them before the men got back from mosque, so they put them in one house, closed the door and burned them alive. A massacre in the morning and a massacre at night.Hm... one could spend days dissecting the inconsistencies within this word salad or between it and the vast remainder that seems to be based on some kind of real information. It's had zero effect, it seems. But it goes to show how people just opening their mouths and claiming things does not make their claims true. And what happened on May 25 has always been, to the dumbed-down masses, a matter of what Shabiha-blaming people opened their mouths and claimed.
But hey, look! One more direct eyewitness who's probably right, because she blames Shabiha, and that's consistent with what the other correct witnesses said.