In an attempt to sideline news of the violence in Syria, the Syrian al-Watan newspaper quoted a Syrian official source denying that a massacre took place in the town of Aqrab this week. Right after this shy denial, the newspaper reported that its correspondents were not able to reach the town for security reasons.
In fact, the Syrian regime is not used to recognizing, or even covering through media, any crime or a massacre unless it can use it to condemn the Syrian opposition and hold the “armed” militants in Syria responsible for the bloodshed. This is similar to what happened for example when the Syrian media covered the Daraya massacre. But the massacre in Aqrab is unlike any other, and even more, if what was said is true, it will undoubtedly be a unique story because of its tragic ambiguities.
The alleged victims in the village are Alawites, and the first story publicized by the Syrian opposition media shows the testimony of a Syrian lady named “Umm Ayham” and other witnesses that the Free Syrian Army said were wounded and took them to be treated. The witnesses’ recorded stories stating that the Shabiha in the town, who were already a part of the Houla massacre, have committed a mass suicides, fearing the worst that can happen for themselves and their families.
This dramatic story seemed strong due to the cohesion of the accounts of Umm Ayham and the other wounded people. Then another version of the story was broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4, whose correspondent was the only journalist who had arrived to the suburbs of Aqrab without being able to enter the town. He met three witnesses who held the Free Syrian Army responsible for what happened. The correspondent was not able to enter the town, and although he had met witnesses without any prior preparation, he was still inconclusive in terms of who was responsible for the massacre.
These accounts did not find their way to the Syrian regime’s media, which had only mentioned the massacre long after it had passed in a neglected corner in the newspaper, ultimately denying it.
Certainly, the Aqrab massacre reflects disastrous patterns of behavior. The mass suicides, if proven, would be like honor killings since it appeared that the killing of women was a duty to help them avoid being raped by the enemy. Moreover, what proves that a siege was imposed by the Free Syrian Army against the families, are the stories of the town suffering from a lack of drinking water for several days, while mothers were beating their children so they would stop screaming.
Moreover, the story of the opposition needs to be documented, otherwise doubts over the truth of what happened will remain.
These were some points that the regime did not pay attention or maybe it did not see that it was worth more than a small denial newspaper column.
Maybe as viewers, we should have sent correspondents like the famous Addounia channel reporter who had previously “covered” the massacre in Daraya.
(Diana Moukalled is a columnist at Asharq al-Awsat, where this article was published on Dec. 20, 2012)