SYRIA

Amateur videos lend support to claims of Syrian mass grave

 Residents of the southern Syrian city of Deraa say at least 13 bodies were discovered in a mass grave near the city on Monday, May 16. Though the claim has been denied by Syrian authorities, it appears to be corroborated by two amateur videos.

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Residents of the southern Syrian city of Deraa say at least 13 bodies were discovered in a mass grave near the city on Monday, May 16. Though the claim has been denied by Syrian authorities, it appears to be corroborated by two amateur videos.

 

The bodies were reportedly pulled from a single grave discovered in farmland on the outskirts of Deraa, which has been a focal point in the nationwide wave of anti-government protests. Residents say the bodies included those of a man (identified by some accounts as Abdel Razzaq Abazid) and four of his sons. Prominent Deraa opposition activist Abdullah Abazid told US news channel CNN that he believed the five may have been targeted because they were members of his family. [Update on May 19: Contacted by FRANCE 24, Abdullah Abazid said that the bodies found in the grave were not part of his immediate family, and that he did not believe their death was liked to his particular case]. The rest of the bodies were unidentified men, as well as a one woman and a child, residents said.

 

Two amateur videos, both of which were posted on video sharing website YouTube on May 16, show what appear to be whole or parts of human bodies being unearthed from a shallow grave with the help of a backhoe.

 

In the video below, the person filming says the scene is located outside Deraa, and adds that the date is May 16 (many opposition protesters have developed the habit of inserting elements that help journalists authenticate the videos they shoot and upload online). The man also identifies several of the unearthed bodies as his uncle and four of his uncle’s children. At 1'41 minutes, the video shows a plaque on the side of the backhoe, on which the word Deraa is written in Arabic.

 

Video posted on YouTube by SHAMSNN, a Syrian opposition channel that has posted a steady stream of videos since the start of the protest movement. They have so far proved a reliable, albeit anonymous source.

 

Because foreign journalists are barred from entering Syria, it is extremely difficult for international media to independently verify witness accounts or determine an exact body count. In this case, however, the amateur videos match the report a local farmer gave CNN.

 

The farmer said one of his colleagues was heading towards a grove of olive trees on Monday when he smelled the stench of decomposing bodies. He then sought help from local residents to unearth seven bodies using a backhoe. Within an hour of the discovery, the farmer said, Syrian army and security forces took control of the site and continued digging and removing corpses. 

 

According to Syrian state television, the Syrian interior minister called the reports “completely untrue”, adding that they were part of a “campaign of incitement” against Syria. Authorities have blamed most of the protest-related violence on obscure armed groups backed by Islamists and outside powers. Although Deraa residents say dozens of civilians were killed during the military assault on the city’s old quarters late last month, authorities say the army was sent in only to restore order after appeals from residents.

 

For the past two months Syrian soldiers and police have been trying to quell demonstrations across the country calling for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. They have tended to crack down on a flashpoint area for several days, using tank and rifle fire and mass arrests to subdue it, and then move on to another area.

 

Both domestic and international rights groups accuse Syrian forces of having killed at least 700 civilians across the country since protests first broke out in Deraa on March 18.

 

Second video of the same scene, also posted on YouTube by SHAMSNN.