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Friday, June 26, 2015

Syria: the Zanuba Massacre and the Harbinafsah Laundering Center?

June 26, 2015
last edits June 30

This incident is one of the many sectarian massacres in Syria that the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) managed to overlook in its recent report on just this kind of thing in Syria's ongoing conflict. See my ongoing review of the report here. It involves killing Alawi (Alawites) and helps flesh-out a fascinating pattern of deception regarding that ongoing, little-noted genocide.

A Multi-Generational Massacre
In early June, Fars News and RT reported on an reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (via AFP as usual) of a massacre in an Alawite town - or of Alawites anyway - in Hama province. The SOHR also reported the news story citing them here on their own website.

By this SOHR telling, only five people were killed, but they represented four generations - a 102-year-old man, his son, his grandson, the grandson's wife and their daughter. "The family was from the minority Alawite group – an offshoot of Shia Islam, to which Syrian President Bashar Assad belongs," AFP reported. "Some members of the family were burned alive, others killed in their sleep," the Observatory told them.
As far as I know, this is not a crime where "both sides blame each other." Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh was blamed for launching the attack on the village of Zanuba. No one has openly contested that, tried to blame anyone else, or really mentioned it at all.

The exact date isn't given in these reports of June 2, but odds are it was before that, and most likely only a day or so before.

Location: on Wikimapia 53km west of Hama, near Salamiya. Note as the map shows that it's right by Mahbouja, an Ismaeli (Shia) town that was the site of a March 2015 Daesh massacre of 60+ civilians (dedicated spot forthcoming) - and also near Khunayfis, site of a November, 2014 massacre of 8 (see ACLOS: Khunayfis Massacre). That was reportedly also by Daesh, but possibly with shelling assistance from the Ahfaad AlRasool brigade of the FSA. The latter case will come up again. The whole area is worth this larger reference map.
(error: Zantuba instead of Zanuba)

The opposition VDC lists for June 1 (but not June 2 or any preceding day) 4 martyrs from two families who might well fit, despite some obvious issues. If they don't fit, it means this massacre was not recorded there at all. This has happened before, but it would be the first of these three area crimes they failed to get some version of. I suspect this is, or represents, them:

From somewhere in Hama they call Harbenosh, came four male victims of "Detention - Execution." The notes say for each: "Was executed after being arrested by regime forces, date of death unknown accurately "
* Majed al-Mesheal Civilian Adult - Male
*  Bilal al-Mesheal Civilian Child - Male
* Alae al-Shami Civilian Adult - Male
* Talal al-Shami Civilian Adult - Male 

The number of dead is different, but thats a small issue; sometimes they just miss an alleged victim or two, or maybe the other source is wrong. By the SOHR report, these should all have a single last name. There would be 5 victims, including a woman of childbearing years (who would probably have her father's or "maiden" name). Her absence from  the dead list might make sense, however. The child should be a girl, not a boy. The unclear location is covered below, and it may explain why even names and gender may be intentionally incorrect, and why these may well be the Zanuba massacre victims.

Harbinafsah, Where Daesh Washes its Hands of Alawite Blood?
"Harbenosh" is a very unusual place name. That spelling did nothing, and the Arabic : حربنفسه took to me to only one place I've run into before - transliterated Harbinafsah. It's here on Wikimpaia, on the north shore of lake Rastan, just west of Rastan (labeled in red on the map above). The name meaning is unclear; an image search shows horses, and Google translate gives "free himself" or "war himself" depending where you insert a space in the middle. As explained with the Khunayfis massacre 34 km east of there (see talk page) the Alawite victims from eastern Hama were probably laundered in Harbinafsah as killed by regime shelling, and implicitly Sunni.
The SOHR had reported on November 8 eight Alawi civilians were killed at their orchards in Khunayfis - four children, and four adults (2 men and 2 women) with no names given. Of course that doesn't appear in general rebel reports, but the VDC happened to list 8 linked shelling victims - 4 young kids and 4 adults (but here 3 men and a woman). They gave three names: all men shared one name Shahoud (or might - one seems truncated), the woman another (al-Ezzo - "maiden names" are usual for wives) and the children are all from a Bakour family.

At the time, I was not convinced by these slight differences; the names were all suspect. What helped solidify that impression was how all the child victims rebels showed on video - three of the four (two shown at right) - have the unusual trait of invisible faces, all wrapped completely with heavy gauze. The top frame shows a boy who was shown alive, conscious and fussy with his head wrapped. They say he died later that day. In the bottom frame, a dead girl - the gauze is pink in spots, either from the massive head wounds below, or from some dye. It doesn't seem their heads are really crushed - it seems instead the local rebels were looking for an excuse to show dead kids but not their recognizable faces - probably because these were laundered victims with altered IDs, and they were hauled over from Khunayfis. No adults were shown.
So it seemed possibly to be a local center for processing Alawites from Alawite towns they want to avoid mentioning. Especially after SOHR already did. The best option would be to just not list the victims, or alter every details, including the dates and numbers. But it doesn't seem they took the safest route here.

That entire impression is now strengthened by this other case where Harbinafsah victims almost match Alawite victims from the east. Note also on the map how far west it is (in red, lower left) - not the closest spot to these eastern villages, but centrally located to handle both them and other Alawite towns around Aqrab to its west.
Similarities between Khunayfis and Zanuba: Daesh commits the killings, not even JaN - small massacre, Alawi victims -  in both cases, the SOHR reported the crime - this apparent laundering through other channels as confirmation:  same alleged origin town, slightly randomized family dynamics, no faces shown.

Differences: no videos of the dead this time - instead of shelling it's called deliberate murder, just with a date they don't know, because they didn't do it - the "regime" is still being blamed for a more deliberately kind of killing, in an unclear location - considering rebels seem to have been running Harbinafsah. rebels have general access to Harbinafsah. But they knew about and reported it on June 1, apparently. And the crime it's so similar to in size and time is reportedly again a Daesh crime against Alawi, perhaps being altered with the help of someone in that town, or using its name anyway.

More Examples?
In fact, I checked the Arabic town name - حربنفسه - in the VDC to see who else from Harbinafsah has died : they list 68 total (Arabic), including rebel fighters. In more than 4 years that's a very small number, even for a smaller town like this. (pop. 52,563 in 2004 per Arabic wikipedia article) These seem to come in little groups worth considering: the two dates we've just considered, with 8 and 4-5 killed seem representative: 9 victims at once April 9, 2013 - January 3 (3 dead) - August 3-August 7, 2012 (9 dead) - March 4, 2012  (6 dead, in Englsih) and no one from there died prior to that.
That first incident's 6 victims have the note "He was martyred along with 13 others after the shuttle he was taking to his work at the Compost Factory in Tal Al-Shoor was targeted by Assad's thugs from the Alameen Town." (I can't find al-Amin, but there's a Mneen along the long implied route) The other 7 either weren't killed, were from other towns (other sects?) and were seemingly not listed: the note comes with only these 6 (Alawites?), and no other day's victim seems to have any similar note tying them to this incident. The factory sounds like the same one 12-13 workers were killed bussing from on May 31 (compost/manure/fertilizer, with Qattina and Tal al-Shor being towns right by). But this is a separate incident weeks earlier! And Harbinafsah is not close - 32 km north. But like with other places about 30 km distant, it hosted the victims' provided, and suspect, identity! How many other bad days in there share these traits?  

Mahbouja Massacre Laundering?
The Mahbouja massacre - 4 times the size of these massacres combined, and with a different religious group - for some reasons(s) does not seem to have been handled the same way. It was however somewhat obscured in the VDC's database by being included under "regime forces" - see 63 regime forces, rank: civilian killed in this massacre, listed as from the place everyone else, including mainly SOHR again, reported the massacre happening. Being listed like this by the VDC is fairly common for people who were probably killed by forces on the rebel side(s).

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