Screen grab from a video of the Syrian foreign minister's press conference in Damascus on Monday.
Syria’s foreign affairs minister claimed that extremely graphic images he showed during a press conference in Damascus Monday depicted attacks by “terrorist groups” during recent protests against Syria’s government. However, some of footage he showed was actually shot several years ago – in Lebanon.
As anti-government protests refuse to die down, Syrian authorities have stepped up an elaborate media campaign. Its goal appears to be to discredit the anti-government movement by counteracting the steady stream of amateur videos released by Syrian activists showing the regime’s violent crackdown on demonstrations. Because foreign journalists have been largely banned from reporting on events inside Syria, these leaked images have served as one of the main sources of information on what’s happening in the country.
The only other version of events available is the official one provided by Syrian state media and the privately owned, pro-Assad television station Al Dunya, which systematically blames “terrorist groups” for the violence that has gripped the country since March.
WARNING: This video contains shocking images.
Footage shown during Syrian Foreign Minister Walid El Moallem's press conference (FRANCE 24 will not show the entirety of these images here as some are very gruesome). These images were broadcast on Syrian television.
However, not all of the images shown by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid El Moallem as “proof” of terrorist activity were shot in Syria. For example, a video that captures a man in agony after having been attacked by a mob (at 0:04 minutes) was claimed to have been filmed in the Syrian town of Shughour. In reality, this footage was shot in Ketermaya, a town in western Lebanon, in May 2010. The victim – an Egyptian man suspected of having committed murder – was beaten to death by an angry crowd. FRANCE 24 reported on the incident at the time, publishing an article in the aftermath of the killing. However, because of the violent nature of the video, FRANCE 24 chose not to post footage of the actual event.
One minute into El Moallem’s presentation, another clip crops up. It claims to show scenes from “terrorist training” in the Syrian city of Lattakia (at 1:18 minutes), but this too is false. The video was actually shot in Bab Tebbané, near the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli, in 2008. When news that the footage had been re-appropriated by Syria’s foreign minister hit Lebanon, a group of angry people took to the streets in the Lebanese city of Tripoli on Tuesday night to protest against its misuse.
Even some of the images that appear to have been shot in Syria have unclear origins. At 0:26 minutes, men are seen unloading bodies from a pick-up truck and throwing them into a river. A man then comments on the video, claiming to have helped unload the corpses after having taken part in an attack on a police station.
Although our Observers were able to confirm the footage was filmed in the western Syrian city Hama, they added that there was no evidence that the men in the video are “terrorists”. Our Observers said it was equally possible that the men in the clip were government militia disposing of the bodies of slain protesters - hundreds of whom have disappeared since the unrest began more than eight months ago. They also pointed out that if the video was in fact shot in August as claimed, then the Al Assi River, which can be seen in the footage, would have been dried up at that time of year.
Nevertheless, there is increasingly little doubt that the anti-government protests in Syria are now anything but peaceful. On November 17, the president of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalyoun,himself urged residents in the flashpoint city of Homs to refrain from acts of violence or reprisal.