Bodies being buried in the neigbhourhood of Deir Baalba, in Homs.
In Syria, massacres are almost becoming routine. All eyes are currently on a village near the city of Hama, where a massacre is underway. Meanwhile, our Observers in another troubled city, Homs, have sent us images of mass killings that took place there in April. Proof of this massacre - in the form of videos - has only just been released.
The “Deir Baalba massacre,” as it has come to be known, took place between April 7 and April 24. At the time, the army controlled the Homs neighbourhood of Deir Baalba, located in the city’s north-east. Opposition activists based in nearby neighbourhoods reported that several people had been killed; however, it was only once the army left Deir Baalba that they discovered many more had died. According to activists, at least 199 people were killed by both soldiers and “chabbihas,” or thugs paid by the regime. Local residents say that some of these victims were killed by bullets, while others had their throats slashed.
One of our oldest Observers in Homs put us in contact with a resident of Deir Baalba who was able to return to his neighbourhood after the killing, as well as another resident who was there and says he avoided being killed by playing dead. It is impossible, however, for us to independently verify their stories. Foreign journalists are not allowed to enter the city of Homs.
"There were dried blood outside the houses, and bullet holes all over the walls"
Abou Khaled is an opposition activist.
When the army occupied Deir Baalba, my friends and I stayed on the periphery of the neighbourhood. However, we were sometimes able to go in at night to see what was going on. That’s how we found out that lots of people had been killed.When the army left [the army is still present in some streets in this neighbourhood], we came back to Deir Baalba. You could see traces of the army’s presence everywhere. Homes had been destroyed by bombs and by fire; there were bullet holes all over the front of buildings, and there was dried blood just outside houses and in stables, where most of the killings took place [Deir Baalba is located on the edge of the city; part of it is nearly quite rural, and it is full of farms].Of course, we understood what had happened right away. But we didn’t have proof. Elders from one of the city’s pacification committees then contacted us. These committees are made up of old sheiks that sometimes play the role of intermediaries between the authorities and the opposition, notably the rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army. They told us that, right before the regular army pulled out from Deir Baalba, soldiers from the regular army asked them to come with trucks and tools to bury the dead. These elders are the ones who filmed the bodies being buried on their mobile phones. They told us they saw bodies with severed heads and others that were severely burnt. They also told us that some women had their hands cut off – apparently to steal their rings.Getting our hands on these videos wasn’t easy. Those who buried the bodies are the only ones to have seen them. They were worried that if the videos were released, the army would know exactly who leaked them. So we had to first convince them that we would ensure their security. And this took some time.
"One of them told his colleague, who was slitting residents' throats: 'We don't have all day, let's finish them off with bullets'"
Iyad is a resident of Deir Baalba. He says he saw about 30 people get killed.
I lived in the northern part of Deir Baalba with my mother, my sister and three of my brothers. An army official came to visit the neighbourhood on April 8. He told us he had come to protect us and asked us to stay in our homes. We didn’t want any trouble with the army, so we obeyed. A few hours later, members of the security forces and “chabbihas” arrived. They took my mother, sister, and youngest brother away. I don’t know where they are today, or if they are even alive.The security forces and “chabbihas” then brought around a big truck and asked my brothers, cousins, neighbours and I to put everything valuable we owned in it. Then they brought us to a stable - there were about 30 of us – and started slitting throats. One soldier told another: “We don’t have all day, let’s finish them off with bullets.” So they shot at us. Luckily, the bullet that hit me in the back didn’t kill me. But since I fell to the ground like all the others, I was covered under a pile of bodies and they thought I was dead. I recall that when the security forces left the stable, they asked another of their colleagues if he had finished “burning the others.”I spent the next two days sneaking back and forth between the stable and my house, where I drank water and tried to call my cousin, who is part of the Free Syrian Army, but who wasn’t answering his phone. Mostly I stayed in the stable, though, because I was afraid that if I stayed in the house, I would be spotted by the security forces or the “chabbihas” who patrolled the streets. Finally, another member of the Free Syrian Army answered the phone. He told me to sneak between the houses and go to an olive field on the edge of the city. The Free Syrian Army had left the Deir Baalba neighbourhood a few days before the regular army moved in. The rebel fighters had relocated to northern Homs, and were hiding out in farms. I did what he told me, and, as agreed, Free Syrian Army fighters picked me up in the olive field. They took me to a field hospital in Rastan [a city 20 kilometres north of Homs], where I was treated. I’m doing much better today, but the bullet remains inside my body.