Abu Orouba introduced himself to us as a media liaison for the opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCC) of Syria. Purportedly stationed in Houla, he said he witnessed first-hand last week’s massacre in which Syrian forces are reported to have killed over 100 civilians, many of them women and children. Orouba spoke to Middle East Voices about the tragedy and the context in which it occurred, and shared his views on the viability of the peace plan put forth by U.N.-Arab League joint envoy Kofi Annan. Ouroba said that at the time of the massacre he was in Taldou, one of a number of villages which make up Houla. He spoke to MEV’s Mohamed Elshinnawi. For the interview, please see further below.
The Syrian government restricts international reporters from entering the country. To get stories out of Syria, we are inviting Syrians on both sides of the conflict to tell the world how they cope with street violence, human tragedies, political chaos and economic loss in their daily lives. Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for reasons of personal their safety, some contributors do not use their real names. Some texts are edited to improve clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
To read more on-the-street reports, go to our Syria Witness page on Tumblr. To read more of our Syria coverage, click here. Submit inquiries or your own Syria Witness entries to syriawitness(at)gmail.com. For safety reasons, we strongly urge you to use a browser-based e-mail (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail) and be sure https is in the URL.
Elshinnawi: Where is Taldou in relationship to Houla?
Orouba: Taldou is a part of the four parts that Houla comprises; Taldou is the closest part of Houla to the Syrian army positions in Homs.
Elshinnawi: Why did the army target Taldou that day?
Orouba: We have been shelled every Friday; Taldou being the closest point to Syrian army positions and to other villages loyal to the regime, it was exposed to bombardments every Friday, but that last Friday was horrible and brutal.
Elshinnawi: Was that due to Taldou being sympathetic to the opposition or due to sectarian rivalry?
Orouba: Not at all, we were active from day one of the revolution, we do not have any rivalry with any area, and actually we started talking to supporters and loyalists of the regime. However, the horrible massacre reflected a sectarian hatred for Houla because it joined the revolution beginning March 18, 2011, and carries on to this day with very strong demonstrations. Huge numbers were participating from Houla and that is why the army, security forces and shabiha militia (armed, plain-clothed government-paid gunmen) were so brutal. The shabiha entered the village from the nearby villages and slaughtered women and children. We do not have any sectarian rivalries, we do not have enmities even with the army; we are revolting against the regime not against its loyalists, but the regime is inducing sectarian hatred among its loyalists, which led to that massacre.
“Victims were hand-cuffed, some women at the scene of the massacre were naked with no clothes on and they were slaughtered with knives,” -Abu Orouba, media liaison for Syrian opposition group
Elshinnawi: Can you confirm the news reports that said the shabiha militiamen who entered Taldou were Alawites (a minority sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and many in his ruling elite belong) from neighboring villages?
Orouba: Yes, they were Alawite shabiha who came from three neighboring villages that are loyal to the Syrian regime: Al Qabow, Fella and Alsharkelia. We saw about 150 of them entering Taldou under the cover of tank shelling. The men of the village were performing Friday prayers [at the time]; that is why most of the victims were women and children as shown in the video clips that we sent to the outside world. There were 63 family members that were executed either in the streets or at their homes. Victims were hand-cuffed, some women at the scene of the massacre were naked with no clothes on and they were slaughtered with knives.
Elshinnawi: Then, you are confirming that the majority of the massacre’s victims were slaughtered or executed?
Orouba: The arbitrary shelling killed 11 and injured about 300 others, but shabiha militia and security forces accompanying them from neighboring villages loyal to the regime killed 63 family members from different households (Orouba seems to be referring only to people killed in Taldou as the total death toll from the Houla massacre is higher).
Elshinnawi: Where are the U.N. monitors now (the interview was conducted Tuesday, May 29)?
Orouba: Not a single U.N. monitor entered Houla today or yesterday even though we asked them to come. However, there were eyewitnesses to the aftermath of the massacre when [U.N. monitors] came around 11 am on Saturday. They checked, confirmed, documented and took pictures of everything. They even went to places where members of entire families were slaughtered or executed. U.N. monitors even provided us with names of the rest of the martyrs who were detained by the army and security forces and brought back some families that we were not able to evacuate.
“There is no way out except through military intervention,” Abu Orouba, media liaison for Syrian opposition group
Elshinnawi: Did any of the shelling resume today?
Orouba: Taldou was shelled today with T-72 tanks and the other areas of Houla were shelled with other types of artillery and we documented a series of new tactics. They started burning the agricultural crops, encircling civilians who were trying to bring bread from neighboring areas. They prevented trucks carrying wheat from entering Houla and cut off the supply of food products since early morning. There is no bread in Houla and all the bread outlets are not producing any bread, so most of the residents did not have food to eat today.
Elshinnawi: Then what does the average Syrian citizen think about the Annan peace plan and his mediation efforts with the regime?
Orouba: Annan’s plan is a real failure. As a Syrian citizen I see that it failed to produce any result, actually none of its articles were implemented, and even the ceasefire requirement was not met. Now, if Annan’s plan is still on the table, and the U.N. observers are still on the ground, why did this massacre take place? Why is there no ceasefire? Why do we have martyrs and causalities every single day? Why are army tanks still inside population centers? It is a failing plan and we will ask for it to be taken off the table since it failed even to establish a ceasefire. [Violence] continued in Hama yesterday, in Houla on Friday and before that in Homs and Idlib.
Elshinnawi: Then what do you see as an alternative considering that the international community has ruled out Libyan-type NATO intervention in Syria?
Orouba: There is no way out except through military intervention; we are appealing for military intervention. We ask NATO to raid Syrian army positions directly, without any further delay. I am a resident of Houla, and I and 150 thousand other [area] residents ask for a military intervention. We are not the only ones pleading for help, most Syrians have been urging the world to do something, but we got no answer. It is obvious that a peaceful solution cannot be attained with a regime like the one in Syria.
Egyptian-American Mohamed Elshinnawi is a senior reporter at VOA. He covered the Middle East peace process from Camp David in 1978 through the 1993 Oslo Agreements to Syrian-Israeli talks in 2000. He interviewed Arab heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers and as well as ranking U.S. officials, including members of Congress. He hosted "Dialogue with the West," a live TV show which, broadcast via satellite from Washington, reached 35 million Arabs. He is fluent in Arabic and English.