On 26/2/2014, the Al-Manaar Channel, run by the Lebanese Hizbollah group, broadcasted a video clip which it explained as a group of armed men travelling in the area of Barakat al-Otaiba in rural Damascus. The video, in an unclear manner, shows a large group moving by foot, just as a large explosion targets them. The channel described this as a perfectly controlled ambush by the Syrian regime, targeting armed men from the al-Nusra group as well as other Islamic groups.
On the same day, the “Syrian News” channel also broadcast a report on an ambush which targeted fighters from al-Nusra and Liwa’ al-Islam, saying that most fighters were of Saudi, Qatari and Chechen origin and showing the same video as that of al-Manaar. The correspondent then moved the camera among the dead bodies, which according to the report, were killed in an ambush.
In these video clips which were produced by channels supportive of the Syrian regime- all of which came to the ambush, and prepared reports for its correspondents as they were among the bodies of the dead- Syrian soldiers and generals mentioned that the Syrian regime carried out this ambush. However, a leaked clip showed that in the same place there were Lebanese soldiers, thought to be Hizbollah troops. The clip showed them laughing among the dead bodies. It seems that the clip was shot before the TV channels arrived.
Although the recording of the ambush (which takes place from a distance) shows a large explosion, the filming of the dead bodies by the Syrian News channel shows them to be in a grassy dry area. This area however, shows neither sign of burning nor any sign of an explosion having taken place.
A clip shown by Hasan Murtada, a Lebanese media figure that supports the Syrian regime, showed images of the victims. The clip revealed a teddy bear (which was not burnt by the explosion) among the dead bodies, which are assumed to be armed men on their way to implement a military operation. Another body was shown to be completely covered up in the black flag of the al-Nasra group. Again, this flag did not seem to be affected at all by the explosion, in the same way that the clothes of all the dead bodies were not affected.
The images shown by the channels which support the regime also show the dead bodies in an organised row with regular spaces between them. All bodies remained on the road, with no limbs or scattered bodies in the areas around the road, as usually happens in a large explosion of the kind that the channels showed.
The facebook page of the “Syrian Revolution against Bashar Al-Asad” also pointed out that armed men do not move in such large numbers and in such a manner, nor can they be armed in such circumstances with only a number of Russian rifles, as broadcasted by the channels.
The Witness of the Certification office in the Eastern Ghouta
The United Certification office in the Eastern Ghouta released a statement on the 26/2/2014 in which it said that a number of families in the Eastern Ghouta (amounting to around 175 individuals) left the besieged area and took the Otaiba route which leads out of the Ghouta. At exactly 3am, regime forces alongside Hizbollah forces and some fighters of the Iraqi Abul Fadl al-Abbas laid out what seemed to be a planned ambush. As the families passed the Otaiba Road, two belts of mines and explosive devices which were planted on the road exploded, half a minute apart. Asad and Hizbollah forces then targeted the families with heavy machine guns and rocket launchers in order to kill as many victims as possible. Once the military operation was over, all remaining victims who were injured were summarily executed.
The statement also added that a number of people still managed to survive this massacre, some of whom are suffering very serious injuries and who have been transported to field hospitals in the Eastern Ghouta. After committing the massacre, the regime forces brought the supportive channels to falsify the truth of what had happened and claim that the victims were fighters of al-Nusra and other Islamic militias of other Arab and non-Arab nationalities. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed the regime’s false story, reporting on its facebook page that “152 fighters of al-Nusra and other Islamic militias were killed, and seven of them that were injured were taken as prisoners in an ambush laid out by Hizbollah forces and supported by the regime forces between the villages of al-Otaiba and Mid’aa in the Easter Ghouta.”
Results and Recommendations
The Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) points to the clear contradictions in the film shown by the channels supportive of the regime in Syria and Lebanon, and to the difficulty of believing that such victims had died in a large explosion as was shown. This makes one suspicious of the official story surrounding the ambush.
Since the film and the images shown by the regime shows the bodies in a place in which there are no signs of an explosion, this clearly shows that those killed were killed in a different manner- in particular, one which leaves no sign of any burning. It is clear that summary executions took place, especially in that there are no scattered limbs and the bodies are intact and remain on the road.
Bearing in mind the above, SHRC’s recommendations are as follows:
SHRC points to the fact that the military groups whose forces were claimed to be victims have denied that their members were killed in any ambush. SHRC also calls for the films produced by the regime as concrete evidence of war crimes which show the perpetrators and victims as documented by the perpetrators themselves.
This crime is a new addition to the list of crimes committed by Hizbollah militias in Syria, the kind of which calls for the group to be classified as a terrorist group in both its political and military branches, and for its leaders to be tried at the international courts.
This incident shows the importance and urgency of the monitoring of Syrian regime media and other supportive channels and the violations they commit as they rise to the level of participating and inciting war crimes.
SHRC calls on all human rights organisations to study data with full and proper detail before producing results which may contradict with the data.
Syrian Human Rights Committee