Thursday, June 7, 2012

SYRIA LATEST : al-Qubayr Massacre

The massacre of 78 people in al-Qubayr came roughly a week after a mass killing in the town of Houla [Reuters]

Mohammad, a 20-year-old from a small village in Hama province, left for work on Wednesday morning not knowing that he would find most residents of his town dead when he returned.

When Mohammad came back to his house that night, he found the burned corpses of his mother, father, two sisters and one brother on the floor.

“I lost all my family members, with the exception of my grandfather. I found him in his home unconscious. His house was partially destroyed from the shelling,” Mohammad told Al Jazeera.

The massacre of at least 80 people in al-Qubayr, confirmed by both United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and special envoy Kofi Annan on Thursday, was the second mass killing to emerge from Syria in a week, following the apparent murder of around 100 civilians in Houla.

It has refocused attention on the burgeoning civil war in that country, which shows no signs of a political resolution.

Mohammad and opposition activists blamed government-backed militia, known as shabiha, for killing the residents of al-Qubayr and burning their houses afterwards. Annan and Ban did not assign blame, and the Syrian government has said terrorists are responsible.

Mohammad's grandfather, who was transferred to nearby hospital, told him that supporters of President Bashar al-Assad from the nearby towns of Tal Sikkeen and Aseelah had attacked him.

“I usually return home at 4pm, but there was heavy shelling in the area, so I stayed out until 8:30pm. When I returned, I saw what I saw," he said.

“My grandfather was beaten on his head with a heavy object. They did not know he was still alive. If they knew they would have killed him too.”

Heavy shelling on Wednesday reportedly targeted the villages of Jerjees and Maarzaf, where activists told Al Jazeera they suspected the army was trying to quell opposition fighters. Al-Qubayr, with a population of around 150 people, was close enough to take some of the artillery fire as well.

“After the shelling, shabiha entered the town and slaughtered people,” Mohammad said.

Tal Sikkeen and Aseelah, where activists claimed the shabiha came from, are inhabited mainly by members of the Alawite sect, the offshoot of Shia Islam to which Assad's family and many high-ranking government officials belong.

Al-Qubayr is a town inhabited mainly by Sunni Muslims, and Mousab al-Hamadee, an activist in Hama, said he believed the acts of the shabiha were motivated by sectarian feelings.

“The shabiha took advantage of the fact that this town is remote and isolated to attack it,” he said.

SANA, the state news agency, said only that nine people were killed in “cold blood”. Hamadee put the death toll at 78.

The figures remained unverified, as UN observers sent to al-Qubayr were stopped and turned away at Syrian army checkpoints on Thursday. Ban said some of the observers had come under small arms fire, while the UN commander on the ground said others had been warned that their safety was at risk if they came to the area.

Mohammad said he had no idea why his town was targeted.

“There are no armed rebels in Qubayr. Residents of this town did not participate in anti-government protests,” he told Al Jazeera. “We are farmers. My dad grew wheat. We had nothing to do with politics.”

Mohammad has left and is now staying at his friend’s house in a nearby village. He said he would not return.

“What town," he asked. "There is no town anymore.”


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