Syrian Rebels Responsible For Houla Massacre?

John Rosenthal at National Review passes along a report from Germany’s leading daily newspaper [link directs to German language source] that implicates the Syrian rebels in the massacre of some 90 civilians in the city of Houla, a massacre that many in the West have used for a renewed round of denunciations of the Assad regime:

 [A]ccording to a new report in Germany’s leading daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the Houla massacre was in fact committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and the bulk of the victims were member of the Alawi and Shia minorities, which have been largely supportive of Assad. For its account of the massacre, the report cites opponents of Assad, who, however, declined to have their names appear in print out of fear of reprisals from armed opposition groups.

According to the article’s sources, the massacre occurred after rebel forces attacked three army-controlled roadblocks outside of Houla. The roadblocks had been set up to protect nearby Alawi majority villages from attacks by Sunni militias. The rebel attacks provoked a call for reinforcements by the besieged army units. Syrian army and rebel forces are reported to have engaged in battle for some 90 minutes, during which time “dozens of soldiers and rebels” were killed.

“According to eyewitness accounts,” the FAZ report continues,

the massacre occurred during this time. Those killed were almost exclusively from families belonging to Houla’s Alawi and Shia minorities. Over 90% of Houla’s population are Sunnis. Several dozen members of a family were slaughtered, which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. Members of the Shomaliya, an Alawi family, were also killed, as was the family of a Sunni member of the Syrian parliament who is regarded as a collaborator. Immediately following the massacre, the perpetrators are supposed to have filmed their victims and then presented them as Sunni victims in videos posted on the internet.

Rosenthal also makes note a report from Dutch sources that cite eyewitness accounts from members of the Monastery of St. James in Qara that appear to corroborate the claims that the Houla attack was carried out by rebels and directed at Alawite and Shia minority communities.

None of this is to downplay the brutality of the Assad regime, which has been responsible for most of the violence that has occurred over the past year or so. However, it is a strong indication that the world needs to be exceedingly careful about both becoming too involved in the Syrian conflict, and becoming too closely involved with rebels who may turn out to be no better than Assad himself.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, World Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. walt moffett says:

    also this from the Telegraph where a reporter says the rebels led him into a trap. The image of the valiant Syrian freedom fighter is starting to take a pounding.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve never thought we should get into this one. This isn’t knocking over Gaddafi, this is more like getting involved in Iraq. Sometimes all you can do is to send Kofi Anan or Jimmy Carter and hope for the best.

    We should start thinking about what it means if this does devolve into open civil war. Iran could get involved on the Alawite/Shiite side. Hezbollah can get dragged in. The Saudis may be players. Israel will be looking for an edge, Turkey will be scared, Lebanon won’t be able to stay clear. The new Egyptian government may feel pressure to get into it. This could turn into an all-in Sunni-Shiite throw-down. What a mess.

  3. Dazedandconfused says:

    The identity of the victims being in dispute seems a very odd thing. Were the names of the buried recorded? The nature of those names can strongly indicate ethnic affiliations. If the writers are going to make the claim they were Shia or Alawite, I’d like them to make a better case.

    Not saying this is to prove who wears the white hats in there, just vetting a bit if information, or disinformation. I quite agree there aren’t any.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    This is a religious, tribal and civil war all rolled into one. There are no good guys and whoever wins is not going to like us. We need to stay the hell out.

  5. John Burgess says:

    I don’t know that there are no ‘good guys’, but it’s just about impossible to tell them apart. There’s no program or scorecard here, only death tolls.

    @Dazedandconfused: Not really. The Alawites are a sub-sect of Shi’ism, though Sunnis don’t think they’re Muslim at all. The Alawites, though, have a strong survival instinct. Their names are really not distinguishable from other Shi’a or even Sunni names. More informative is just what village they’re from. If it’s a mixed village, then even that’s no help. The Alawis are very secretive. They do, in fact, have secret handshakes and shibboleths.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    So and so said such and such…. none of which can be verified….. But a violent dictator has found some people to relate his version of the story…. and we are loathe to actually verify said story, so we depend on others to verify their story…. which they do not so we say, “Some say this!” but who knows? It is all very foggy now.

    Call me when you have verifiable facts Doug. Really. Don’t just do something, sit there.

  7. @OzarkHillbilly:

    Yes and your point is what?

    Unless you wish to travel to Syria and rebut the reporting of journalists who have actually been on the ground your comment seems kind of pointless

  8. Michelle says:

    @Doug Mataconis: There was a different report on the radio this morning from other journalists. I think there is a need on parts of the right to justify their fear of radicals and to associate those radicals with you name it. Looking for an angle on this is what some people are after. If that fits you, then, I don’t know.

    This is a terrible situation, much like Bahrain. The U.S. can’t seem to extricate itself from the Saudis or the Israelis. Meanwhile the poor people are being chewed up. Listen to Erdewan of Turkey. He’s supposedly a religious person who will ruin the secular Turkey, but at least he is calling for something more.

    The U.N. is trying. Why not post something on those blocking a real solution?

    But no, it’s all got to be politicized and choose one side or the other when there are multiple sides in reality. And the poor continue to die. While you are safe.

    I know that last is a cheap shot, but seriously, why jump at the chance to blame one side based on a NATIONAL REVIEW article?

  9. Tony says:

    If you read the news carefully, EVERYTHING Assad has allegedly done has been according to reports affixed with “activists say.” None of it has been verified – yet this “hearsay” has been used disingenuously by the West to push an agenda DECADES in the making – the reordering of the Middle East which by necessity means installing a proxy client regime in Syria, amongst other places. This was admitted to by General Wesley Clark in 2007.

    Calling these sectarian terrorists “Sunnis” is an oversimplification because the “Free Syrian Army” is killing ANYONE including Sunnis who oppose them. They are ideological supremacists and are no more Sunni Muslim than White Supremacists are “Christian.”

    Also, the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are on record since at least 2007 funding, arming, and staging these terrorists to use against Syria, Lebanon and eventually Iran (Seymour Hersh, “The Redirection” 2007). It is a contrived death cult designed to fight the West’s proxy war. It has nothing to do with democracy, freedom, or even religion.

  10. KDD says:

    The village identified as tr massacre site in which the UN monitors visited is known as a Sunni enclave sorrounded by Allawites. No massacre of Allawis could have taken place by such unknown armed terrorist groups without eliciting a reaction from the broader Allawites community who are armed.

    This massacre was perpetuated in part by the Allawites townspeople against Sunnis of Houla.

  11. 11B40 says:


    Regrettably, muslims killing other muslims no longer greatly upsets me. As Fouad Ajami has pronounced, those are the lands of “I against my brother; my brother and I against out cousin; and, my cousin, my brother, and I against the stranger.” At least ,while they’re busy killing each other off, we kuffars can get a bit of rest.

    Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn’t include constraining or eradicating Islam, you don’t have a plan. You have a hope.

  12. Dazedandconfused says:

    @John Burgess:

    I would not have suggested it except for the large number of names to sort through. Some names are more typical of certain sects.

    Given the provenance of this information, I find it difficult to accept at face value.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Unless you wish to travel to Syria and rebut the reporting of journalists who have actually been on the ground your comment seems kind of pointless

    Been to Syria lately Doug? No? Your comments seem kind of pointless. STFU.

    Seriously Doug, how myopic are you? You criticize me???? For your faults???? That I had the nerve to point it out to you????????????????????

    Once upon a time, I thought you were intelligent. I still think you are. I also know you are an idiot. If “intelligent idiots” seems like a contradiction in terms, you need to live a little more.

  14. OzarkHillbilly,

    I am passing along reports from actual journalists on the ground. What do you have other than personal insults which, I will remind you, are a violation of our comment policy?

  15. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: @Doug Mataconis: And once again, the thread is kidnapped and Doug is lured into yet another “quien es mas macho” p!$$!#g contest!