Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ma'an Massacre, 2012: Did the Rebel Offensive Falter?

August 4, 2015
(completed August 6)
(even more completed, August 7)

Maan (Arabic: معان - translates "glitter" or "gloss") is the name of a Syrian village located here on Google maps, and on Wikimapia, 22 km north of Hama, and near strategic Morek. Maan is an Alawi-majority (Alawite) village, with a smaller number of Sunni Muslim families. It was the site of a semi-famous alleged massacre by anti-government Islmaist forces (not ISIS) in February 2014 (coverage on A Closer Look On Syria - ACLOS)

This post deals with the less-famous December 2012 massacre in Ma'an, as covered on the ACLOS page Maan Massacre and its discussion page. So yes, this small town has reportedly suffered two massacres so far, at least. The best English source besides ACLOS is SyriaNews.cc, Feb. 14: What Happened in Maan, the Two Massacres.

By some informed sources, in the 2012 massacre, 23 victims, mainly men but including women and children were killed, some victims were beheaded, and bodies were burned. This happened during a three-day rebel occupation of the town, from Dec. 24-26 as reported by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), who draw on anti-government sources and others as well. Rebels didn't directly (or widely?) acknowledge their occupation, but did report a massacre there at that time (SOHR did not hear about that - ACLOS detective work pieced it together, long before the SyriaNews accounts confirmed there was a 2012 rebel sectarian massacre there). 

But at the time, the VDC, Local Coordinating Committees, and others (hardcore rebel sources) say it was Alawite Shabiha militias who came in on the 25th, Christmas (which the Alawi have celebrated in the past), and killed the few Sunnis in town - though it took rebels a week to find out and tell the world, quietly and with no video.

The question taken up by this post is do the hardcore sources claim or deny that rebels were in Ma'an?  We'll see by following, to some extent, what they have said about that area in the surrounding days.

Intentions: Strategic, not Genocidal
In late 2012, Rebels were clear in their intent to conquer (or "liberate") Ma'an. This stemmed from their interest in controlling Morek - north of Hama, an important town on the highway to rebel-heavy Idlib province.

They were already exercising limited autonomy in Morek since early December at least, arresting regime loyalists and protecting the community. On December 1, they moved to arrest a dangerous criminal named Azam Awes somewhere in Morek. But as the opposition Violations Documentation Center (VDC) records it, an unnamed Daughter Azam Awes, age 5, was shot and "killed by mistake while the revolutionists were arresting her father." This 5-year-old girl is listed by VDC under regime forces fatalities/other statistics, status: regime's army, rank: civilian. It's not as clearly accidental that her dad, regime's army, rank unstated, was also shot dead that day, before or after his "arrest."

But full control of Morek evaded the rebels, partly they said because rockets kept hitting the town from Alawite villages nearby. And so, another front they were forced to open was just to the east. A Dec 20 Reuters report says rebels began to push into Morek this day, besides on other fronts in Hama province. They hear rebels had already "laid siege to ... the Alawite town of al-Tleisia, and "they were also planning to take the town of Maan." An anonymous rebel captain in Hama explained: "the rockets are being fired from there, they are being fired from Maan and al-Tleisia," ans so to control Morek "we need to take Maan."

Below, then, the target area: Crucial Morek on the far left, three towns to the east highlighted. Ma'an and Tulaysiyah are explained. Later reports say three Alawite villages, including Ma'an, were conquered by rebels but re-taken by the 27th. By deduction, the third town is probably Zughba - on Wikimapia labeled "al-Zoghba - Alawite village." Violence and deaths on the both sides are recorded here in the opposition record.In fact, it almost seems soldiers and local "Shabiha" fighters only died there. It's quite interesting, and covered below.

Area rebels had recent experience attacking Alawi "Nussayries" (religious enemies) and denying it on a massive scale. This announcement came ten days after rebels first announced the massacre in the Aalwi half of Aqrab, southern Hama, - up to 200 civilians killed by fellow Alawi of the "Shabiha" militias, they said, as rebels stood by amazed. There was a quick refutation of their story, and of a (clear) massacre at all, by Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News. His report was clear that anything bad that did happen was on the rebels who had kidnapped 500 Aalawi civilians, killed some perhaps, and threatened and lied about the rest. But the lack of anyone else seeming to care - with some days to feel that out - may have helped the Islamists decide they could do it in Ma'an as well.

And just then a new coalition of them was forming, officially on December 22; the Syrian Islamic Front comprised 11 salafist rebel groups, with Ahrar al-Sham (free men of Syria) being the most prominent of these. (Wikipedia) The Syrian Islamic Front did not formally include the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (Victory Front). But the "fronts" openly worked together from this inaugural offensive and onward - as well as earlier, in battles like the one for Aqrab.

Dec. 24th: Fighting to Get In
The Ma'an offensive was just one part of a province-wide campaign that saw fighting and often victories in several areas at once. Only having placed most locales, it's a bit confusing and hard to be sure I'm considering all relevant areas. It's a good climate for massacre shell games, or for someone like me to imagine them anyway.

The opposition's definitive Local Coordination Committees (LCC) used to issue daily reports with reported events and videos compiled by area. These will be the central source for the rest of this article (mostly via Uruknet, sometimes from the LCC's own site). (Note: anyone who wants to open these and read more, they have lots of videos - graphic - and load slow, and can freeze browsers)

The report for December 22 (LCC) shares nothing clearly relevant to this area, but says the Morek (Mawrek) offensive was well underway and yielding victories. It's the same for December 23. No siege is mentioned on Ma'an, Tuylaysiyah, nor Zughba.

But December 24's report mentions "clashes with regime forces in Maan Village" (perhaps meaning the whole area shown above, the "Ma'an front"). LCC reports 19 martyrs in Hama this day, with the most intense shelling in Hama countryside. "Maan: Severe clashes around the village between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces." Two rebels that get named were killed during the battle of Ma'an:
- Mohammed Bassam Jenani, 27, FSA fighter
- Faisal Hawedi "from Aleppo way" 
The affiliated Violations Documentation Center (VDC) has matching entries for both: Mohammad Basam Genane  from Hama:  Hamideih neighborhood, killed  2012-12-24  by Shooting and Fiesal Hwede Hama  Aleppo Road Neighborhood  2012-12-24  Shooting) VDC lists another LCC doesn't: Hasan Masha'an.

Another shared entry took some work I'll show. LCC Dec 24 video: Martyr Ahmed Yakflouni Al-Maarawi in Maan, Hama (rotated still at right). That's an unusual name I've never seen. I found no clear VDC match. The video says his name is  ابو محمد بتفلوني (Abu Mohammed something -  Gtrans gives "Ptvlona" - letter by letter says b-t-f-l-ou-n-ya) with Maarawi written out in 3 words as sons city Maara. Description says he was martyred with his brothers in Hama, near the village of Kawkab (south of Ma'an, labeled on map at the top of the article). LCC mentions this day "Kawkab: Fierce clashes between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces were reported on the outskirts of the village." Family might fight together, or try fleeing Ma'an together, to the south ...

But this is another killed rebel, a senior one. The Arabic name بتفلوني yields zero hits for the whole war. But cutting the first couple letters helps find in the VDC database 3 people I'd call B(a?)kflounia - t for k typo. The very guy on VDC, English: Ahmad Bakflone, non-civilian, FSA, from Maaret al-Nouman, Idlib (son of Maara). He was shot dead Dec. 24. Martyrdom location - Hama Suburbs: Maan town. Notes - Leader of Islam Battalion was martyred during the clashes with the regime forces in Maan town. No brothers are listed by the VDC this day, with that name. Brothers in Islam/fellow sons of Maara?

There's no word or clue in the LCC's report of the 24th about taking Ma'an, nor of causing people to flee there, nor of stopping them from doing so by shooting up their cars. That doesn't mean none of that happened, it's just what they don't mention.

One report from the day hears of a fighter jet rebels shot down: "Activist Sami al-Hamawi said opposition fighters used anti-aircraft machineguns to bring down the plane outside the Alawite village of Maan, which opposition forces have been trying to lay siege to for several days. He said the plane was flying low over an area opposition fighters had seized." Trying to siege suggests not succeeding yet. Over an area they did hold, outside of Ma'an, suggests the areas they hold are outside of Ma'an. This is what they're saying though, and not necessarily the truth.

December 24 IslamforHama video, from some Alawite village in Hama, or a road outside of it anyway, shows several dead fighters in camouflage along the roadside in the mud. This seems to be in al-Zughba, so it will be covered below.

Who Slaughtered this Family?
(optional side-note, possibly unrelated, possibly related directly, informative for context either way - nine members of a family fled from Damascus area to Morek, tried to flee at the time of the rebel advance, were caught on the road and executed with blades, bodies scooped up and filmed by rebels - rebels are vague who that was done by, or if it was maybe "regime indiscriminate shelling." - moved to Mawas Family Massacre)

Signs they Got In
A useful, if poor-quality video (stabilized, so not the original...) Free Sham address Shabih of Alawite village (trans) Ma'an Hama - Part of the battle and the Al Ahrar al-Sham Martyrs Brigades and the Al-Hamza against Shabiha of Ma'an Alawite village in the northern Hama 24 \ 12 \ 2012 has been killing some thugs and led to some (martyred?) Mujahideen mercy of God."

Fighters are seem firing from the orchards, around small stone-and-clay structures (right, some in a small pit). There are buildings nearby ahead (to the right from top view), as well as behind - this is pretty much inside whatever town. Possible mosque minaret seen at 3:16. The twin structures the scene at right is filmed at - old, indistinct, on a line pointing towards the minaret - the best thing to look for is a water tower we see the base of, in the near distance. It's hard to make out Ma'an with the two images Google Earth has. No spot match identified yet, and it might be one of the other towns, for that matter. (Awaiting a breakthrough.)

(follow-up: current Google Earth/Maps image is June, 2014, middling resolution. The only previous one, 2004, has useless resolution. A water tower can be and perhaps was demolished, to limit future resistance to siege. I just don't see one anywhere (maybe at the center of town, 3 tall lines? still present if so, but can that fit this scene?)

Wherever it is, they're taking return fire. The video ends on a panicked note of retreat. Is this done so clearly to help show how they never did get into Ma'an? Was it completely staged, or just a useful edit from the real footage? I haven't noticed any other clearly labeled Ma'an fighting footage. So this is the furthest we see them get. Note the weather: cloudy, breezy, recent rains (ground is green and seems damp).

Dec 24, Syria Politic (site closed over threats) reported at the time on the "Killing and wounding of dozens in Ma'an, Hama countryside after Islamists attacked "in revenge for Halfaya"" (alleged bakery bombing from the day before). Islamist fighters attacked residents "on the outskirts of the village. ... some of them were killed in their homes, such as Yacoub Salema." LCC doesn't mention that, and VDC has no entry.

SyriaNews heard from "Firas," a local who says he lost his mother and four siblings in this massacre, and was wounded in the second one in 2014. He said “The first time the Takfiris attacked was on 24/12/2012. There was a wedding and they took the chance to enter some vacant homes. They attacked three days later killing tens of civilians amid media silence.” The best reading is the wedding happened on the 21st, the attackers robbed homes then, and launched the actual attack with "slaughtering" on the 24th. (other details left out for brevity - see the article)

Some opposition sources reported a rebel attack and partial conquest on the 24th. Naharnet reported  how "Jihadists overran large parts of an Alawite village in the central Syrian province of Hama on Monday," referring to Ma'an, and citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. No civilian deaths are mentioned, but the SOHR heard "at least 11 rebel fighters and 20 regime troops were killed." The VDC disagrees - it was 17, at village alzoghba with no regime losses specified in Ma'an.

No one mentions a massacre of civilians at this point. But the VDC lists two civilians from Ma'an who were shot dead the 24th - Unidentified 1 and Unidentified 2 - both with notes "His body was found murdered and thrown in the village." Which village isn't specified, actually. But wherever, rebels then arrived and took photographs (at right) soon after. Or maybe the VDC just obtained these pictures somewhere.

The green ground, signs of mud, and indistinct light look pretty consistent with the rebel video filmed nearby this day. But implicitly they were not killed by the rebels, but by someone else. Note also the blankets - both guys were killed somewhere, carried to this patch of ground, and then laid there - they were "tossed" in to this spot, not found shot right there. It was smart to not claim that.  Now it was whoever - corpses were being tossed around just before the Mujiheddin arrived?
Silent Occupation?
Dec 25 LCC: more rebels dying in the battle for Ma'an.
- Yasser Mohammad Tinaoy, 33 years old and a member in the FSA ... from Andalous neighborhood. (VDC has Yaser Mohammad Tinawi)
- Hassan Mashaan (VDC has Hasan Masha'an , Tariq Halab neighborhood  2012-12-24  Shooting)
- LCC misses but VDC lists also Abd al-Raheem Mobarak    Non-Civilian  Adult - Male  Hama  Arbe'in Neighborhood  2012-12-25  Shooting

There's still no word about taking or occupying Ma'an, like the SOHR heard and like others claim and evidence may show. Still taking losses means still trying to get in, or facing resistance anyway. And there's still no word on the 25th, by anyone, of a massacre in Ma'an, which the VDC records later claimed happened on this day. Nor are any killings noted in Tuylaysiyah or Zughba, where no fighting is mentioned either.  This continues into the 26th, with another "warplane shot down in Morek, Hama." Two jets they claim they shot down. That could be. I didn't notice a video to prove either one, however.

The 25th is the last day the LCC shows any signs of a fight for Ma'an, with no mention of a victory. Air attacks were kept at bay, even though someone thought they were neeedded (if that's true) But something on the ground was slowing them own, it sounds like. Did they fail in their mission to seize the Alawite viallges, and just give up after so many died? Only 6 or so killed rebels are listed to the SOHR's at least 11, but the LCC wouldn't list or mention Saudis, Tunisians, etc. fighting with them.

By other sources, it seems rebels enjoyed a partial - or maybe total - conquest on the 24th or 25th, and apparently held whatever part for two days, or parts of three days flanking Christmas. Ma'an was reportedly re-taken by government forces on the 26th (or maybe 27th), as part of their announced and successful offensive in the region. ABC, Australia, reported Dec. 27: "the army took control of three Alawite villages in the central province of Hama, among them Maan, large swathes of which were overrun by jihadists two days earlier, the watchdog (SOHR) said." This could be that day or the day before, as it seemed ... I searched for a primary news source, didn't find it.

On both the 26th and 27th (Uruknet - LCC) the LCC has no mention of Ma'an or anything nearby, nor of massacres - they deny taking or losing the town. Still, rebels seemingly conquered Ma'an, and two other Alawi villages, but lost them within three days or less. They didn't even clearly admit to taking anything, which questions whether they ever intended to announce it. Or did they predict, as anyone could ahve, that they wouldn't hold that much hostile territory for very long? Did they know this would be temporary only?

Recalling that the whole point was that "to control Morek "we need to take Maan."" That sounded like a permanent arrangement they needed, something they couldn't likely get, and didn't get. All they were able to do was create the conditions where, well...

Slow News About the Ma'an Massacre of Sunnis, by Alawis
The news broke on January 1 that there had been an invasion of and a massacre in Ma'an. It had never happened there before. This was from opposition activists, widely reported in the Arab world, hardly anywhere in the West, and nowhere in English. Germany's Der Spiegel reported on the 1st this basic story (translated):
"...members of the militia had Schabiha in the village ... of Maan beheaded 23 people. Those killed included ... the few Sunni families who lived in the village. Also seven children were reportedly killed. The corpses were set on fire, so that some of them could not be identified."

"The massacre is said to have begun after rebels attacked checkpoints in the region on Monday (the 24th or 31st, not made clear here). These were then called the militia fighters."

Shaam News (Arabic)
(Shabiha) committed horrible massacres against our brothers the Sunnis, who make up a small percentage of the village ...  homes on their heads and then burned all the bodies .., has been reached twenty-three a martyr and the number is rising .. In addition to a number of martyrs under the rubble of demolished houses.
Pro-opposition Orient News ran a video on Jan. 1 or 2 (a copy) about how Ma'an "completed the series of massacres" by "Shabiha" and against Sunnis in Hama. Footage of the Qubeir massacre bodies is shown, along with survivors of Aqrab (the ones who blamed Shabiha, under duress, Alex Thomson thought). Other footage includes a burned corpse in a truck, and may be of Ma'an, or more likely just not placed by me. 

One scene, however, also appears in a 2014 video from pro-government al-Manar TV about the recent massacre in Ma'an. If so, it's clearly historical, not from the massacre that happened just days before, and it belongs here. (a still from each video compiled at right, Orient above and Manar below, each one stretched a bit towards normal)

LCC January 1:
More unusual, unplaced video, that could be related to Ma'an:
"Leaked : In this horrific leaked footage filmed by a regime shabiha, Assad's troops take great delight in terrorizing a group of helpless and bound prisoners before isolating two of them, who are stabbed to death before having concrete slabs dropped on their bodies" 

That video was since removed as shocking and disgusting, which it surely was. Less concrete slab, more concrete allegations re: Hama - LCC reports a high toll of 44 martyrs in Hama, "including 23 martyrs from the village of Maan and 16 from Hasraya," both sets in massacres that happened not then but earlier ... the latter, in a bit.
"Hama: Maa'an: 23 people were field-executed by regime forces in the village. It should be noted that they were executed a week ago and their bodies were found today. The martyrs are:Khaled Al-Khalaf Fawzy Al-Arer, Mohannad Al-Toqany and his son Khaled Al-Satof, Ali Al-Rady and his son, Turkia Ahmad Al-Mohammad and her son, Abdullah Khodair Al-Mohammad and his brother Ahmad, 5 people from Al-Awad family, and 7 unidentified children. It should be noted that there are bodies still under the rubble of burned homes."
It's not clarified how and by whom they were just then found, in their homes in the town, and why those people couldn't find them sooner.

Tulaysiyah and Zughba, Laundering Defender Death Locale
There was no word of massacre in these other two apparently overrun Alawi villages east of Ma'an. The only LCC mention of Zughba was to note a rebel killed fighting there. Dec 25 "Hama: Jaber Muhammad Ibrahim was martyred during clashes with regime forces in Zughba Village." VDC lists him, FSA. "Martyred by regime forces sniper gunfire in the battle to liberate Zughbeh." (note: LCC same day also notes "Idlib: Defected soldier Muhammed Mustafa Ibrahim was martyred, he is from Houla, Homs"). LCC didn't mention Tulaysiya.

The VDC, however lists 17 apparent defenders killed in Hama province, and 15 of these share Martyrdom location Hama: Zaghbe village. The Zughba victims, it says, died only on the 27th - implicitly, by the time gov re-claimed it, so... another regime crime? No. The VDC notes on all 17 have something about date of death, mostly "is unknown exactly."

Is death place known exactly?

One Tulaysiyah man (Tleseih) is listed dead - implicit Alawi resident. Some are from Helban, Salamaiya, 16 km south of Zughba (WM). Others are from Sabburah, Sheikh Ali Kasun, and other nearby places in Hama. No regime forces from Ma'an are listed. One is from Homs, "Worked at the Brigade 66" (just north of Halban). Implied there is a conquest further south than the Ma'an front.

Possibly related, LCC Dec. 24: Hama: More than 15 regime forces' personnel have defected on the road to Salamiya, east of Hama." This sounds like soe of the areas these 17 were from. And "More than 15" is pretty close to 17. Did they defect after death, or on video shortly before? 

As with Ma'an, there was no video of the bodies, the direct evidence with clues of who they were and how they died - but it happened after their withdrawal, right?

A December 24 IslamforHama video makes the case for them all dying here, from some Alawite village in Hama, or a road outside of it anyway. Village name ( الزغبة ) doesn't seem to quite say Zughba, but pasted in Wikimapia, it points only to there. This shows several dead fighters in camouflage along the roadside in the mud (one still at right), and in one case, a head-shot execution victim is right in the middle of the road, closest to the village. I count at least 16 victims.

A December 25 video shows more of the same scene, with many of the same bodies, and some others. I haven;t correlated a tally, but about 20 total sounds close. This is more than the VDC specifies, but maybe the same they list, as regime victims for this whole offensive. The SOHR also heard at least 20 defenders were killed. Is this what they're talking about? Is this really all there were? And were these really all killed right here?

top left, looking into town, bottom left looking away
Where is it?  A straight road into town, running maybe east-west (towards setting sun). First buildings on the left, on line with two tall trees. Further back, homes spread to the right. A thin tower is visible that way. Turning the other way, a tel (sharp hill) is visible on a line almost the same as the road's (labeled at right).

Checking all three towns,  and a couple others in the area, all these features say this is on the western road into Zughba. The line of (stones?) to the right (blue line) isn't there in GEs 2007 image not the one from May 2014 (current at Google Maps). But maybe that was temporary. It's still the best match I can see. See comparison below. The trees are further in than I thought. The tel is just right (bottom image shows line of sight to it - the smaller bump next to it is probably a shed that's nearby on a similar line)

one orange square turned blue and I didn't notice. Damn MS paint
About 180 meters from that first house on the left, a larger military truck (lorry) sits on the road, all its tires flat. Near the truck, a patch of pavement with a different quality (not always visible), a gap in the rock line on the north side just after (white lines - these appear in the 2007 image used at right - this strengthens the match).

The truck's direction of travel (suggested) is away from town. The bodies seem to be evenly on both sides in the stretch of road between it and town. It's as if they jumped off the sides for a while and then died, and then the truck stopped when it got empty.

The second video's description translates "Al-Nusra Front has protected them God Brigades stormed the village in the upper Villus (al-Zughba) Hama northern barrier 20 \ 12 \ 2012 was the liquidation of a number of thugs and hit a convoy servo escape the rest of the Shabiha resulting in the martyrdom of a number of Mujahideen mercy of God. The Almighty God willing this will be the fate of all children supporting the criminal murderer Bashar al-Assad"

The VDC describes these men as killed by "shooting," and a few seem simply shot. But in some cases, that's clearly not the case. I see here: at least five likely Islamist-style slaughter victims: skull sliced open from behind and brain laying aside, a throat carved out, an eye missing, an apparent hacked forehead, one man with his chin sliced in half and throat sort-of torn open, not sure how to call that - and some others that are less clear.

These bodies were apparently tossed out here  one-by-one after death. They weren't killed here, all the same couple of meters from the road, each somehow murdered in horrible ways in the open. Some would run further out. More would die in and clustered around/under the truck. Many were dragged into place, but the one left in the road argues against this being post-cleanup. This is a body dump, likely from the army struck rebels stole, and then parked here as a prop for a fictional story.

This dump might have been after the victims were first trucked to this town from wherever, dead or alive. That's an important point, as it obscures just where rebels were doing their most effective killing and capturing - at a time they were downplaying any conquest of Ma'an - the site of someone's planned sectarian massacre.

Unrelated? Hasraya Mass Graves and Checkpoint of Horrors
There is a parallel story well worth considering here, regarding the village of Hasraya, 24 km west of Ma'an between Kafr Zita and Jalama, where rebels took over and found a mass grave just as the Ma'an massacre is alleged. The implication is two same-day rebel offensives, in Maan and this way, with bodies found this way. Interestingly, it's about the same story in 2014 - rebels discovered a massacre in Jalama on the same day they denied one during their second conquest of Ma'an. That seemed to me like a possible means of Laundering the Ma'an Massacre

LCC Jan. 1:
"Hama: Hasraya: A mass grave containing the bodies of 16 people including women, they were all killed during the period of time when officer captain Ahed Abbas "Abu Jaafar" was in charge of the checkpoint that was located in the town before it was liberated by the Free Syrian Army. Some of the bodies were discarded in drilled sanitation canals, most of the bodies have not been identified yet."

Back on December 25, as the Ma'an Massacre was perhaps wrapping up, Hassariya yielded this news:
Hasra'a, Hama: FSA forces found a mass grave containing the remains of many martyrs killed by regime forces; many of the bodies had turned to skeletons. The victims are believed to have been killed at the checkpoint before their bodies were thrown into the mass grave."

The "skeletons" part makes it clear the people died long ago, decayed away before rebels even got there. But it's possible they were freshly killed but burned down to the bones. Rebels would claim the Ma'an victims were burned to the point of being unrecognizable, if not to the point of being skeletal.

Alleged timeline: abuses happened before liberation, under crazed regime commander - mass grave found once by FSA upon conquest, and as Maan massacre happens upon conquest, the 25th - graves found again, or new ones and also with old bodies, by locals 7 days later, as Maan massacre victims are acknowledged on January 1. Does that mean anything?

As with Ma'an, and unusually, the opposition's "activists" provide no video evidence for this Assad crime - they don't let us see under either of the two shells in this possible shell game. The checkpoint is distinct and well-framed in the video - in fact that seems to be the whole idea: "here's this checkpoint, right? Here's abuses happening right in it." That's exactly how it's filmed. I imagine it could be geo-located to the place they claim, and that rebel fakers indeed had access to it, for at least one late afternoon around then. Local victims, military or civilian, are likely enough. But the mass graves video, again, wasn't even shared, if it was even made.

Hasraya Checkpoint Abuse Video
How do we know crazy killers ran that place before?  LCC Dec. 25: "This video of regime troops beating, kicking and stamping on a defenseless young teenager at the Abu Hafar checkpoint in the village of Hasra'a, Hama was found on the mobile phone of an Assad soldier killed in fighting between regime soldiers and FSA troops who liberated the village."However, an anlysis suggests this video is faked. See split-off explanation here.

Map Center Map and Claim 
Syrian Map Center post from December 31 (Arabic) gives a map of Ma'an, with some areas just outside town to the north and south circled in blue and labeled 325 and 350. (They describe the village as "a base to direct the mortar fire," or had it directed against - might connect to these areas.)

2 reasons to mention this: they have a satellite image I don't think I've seen yet. As note, Google's Maan imagery is lacking. If I can find where this is from, maybe will help set the Dec. 24 attack video.

Translated, it says they were publishing details "a week after the end of the process," by Ahrar al-Sham Brigades and Jabhat al-Nusra - "aimed at a large gathering of Shabiha in the village." The operation was a "a big success" and "resulted in the killing of more than 200 Shabiha." This isn't reflected anywhere else - only the 20 or so dumped some kilometers to the east. Did they just add a zero, or get the alleged death toll from Aqrab two weeks earlier mixed in?

Body Abuse Video
But  bad stuff was happening and being filmed and they got video, or copies.

Two 'leaked' videos from the other side are shared up top for the 27th, not under the usual province headings. One is unplaced, one in Hasraya, Hama, and they both might be in Hama. The latter, will come back to. The former: Asad's Shabiha Mutilate and Burn the Corpse of a Citizen. My notes: men in irregular military gear, unafraid to show their faces, the one anyway (see right) stab a dead man in the belly very hard, then in the neck, insulting him for being an armed rebel. Then they douse him with gasoline, and light him up, swearing "we will burn the country for the sake of al-Assad."Only his left thigh is seen burning.

They clearly made this video message for someone to see, but didn't get to release it before rebels killed them, took it, and published it for them. Or maybe it was leaked, as described. Point being, Assad bad. The walls have bullet-holes, rubble - these "Shabiha" took over at this site, some hours before this video (rigor mortis) but no later than Dec. 25. And from the likely fake-ness of this video (high propaganda-to-plausibility ratio), I'd say these are rebel "defectors" with their old gear.

By clothing, I wondered if the victim was the unidentified Ma'an resident on the right in the image above. But build and all other clues suggest not, although the resolution is too bad to even be clear on this. I think this is likely a third possibly armed citizen of Ma'an whom the rebels "liberated." The hate in the stabbing, the hesitation at the neck, and the burning suggest maybe a lightly-filtered sectarian psychology like these defectors have.

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