Al-Houla Before and After the Massacre
One area of the Houla massacre of May 25, 2012 that's worthy of some attention is how the security situation changed from before the massacre to afterwards. The whole scene in the three villages of Al-Houla are of interest, but especially the south of Taldou, where the massacre of over 100 occurred.
The following page does not seek to be all-inclusive, but only to get enough points of data to form a general picture of what changed after May 25. Some of this will be best worked-out first on the discussion page.
Violence Prior to "the Massacre"
As established at the page Houla, May 25: Who Was in Control?, the day of the infamous Houla massacre was the same day as what seems to be the fiercest-yet rebel assault on security forces in the town of Taldou, Al-Houla, Homs province. But Taldou and the other two towns of Al-Houla (Kafr Laha and Tal-Dahab) were the scene of much disputed violence prior to that day, and building up to it.
Opposition Videos and Reports
April 2011 Protest Fired On
Among the earliest incidents shared is one dated April 22, 2011: a video of a protest apparently coming under fire in "Homs, Houla." The crowd with signs faces south, unmoving. Some in the rear are young men on motorcycles, but not visibly armed. When unseen gunfire opens, the crowd scatters, some lay low and play dead, one longer than the others (possibly dead). It’s in Taldou, Main Street, with the cameraman looking south and east on the roof dead-centered here on Google Maps, 94 meters north of military intel HQ. When the people scatter, it's mostly down the ring road to the west.
A special note on this video: as some critics have pointed out, the flag these protesters are holding is not the rebel/French mandate flag, but a variant of the national flag, with the colors doubled. It's not clear if the green stars are present. This could mean rebels firing on pro-government demonstrators (if one is on a roof with a camera, why not another with a gun?), or the same by the government (for whatever reason), rebels staging a false-flag protest with motorcycles (for whatever reason), or some mixed dynamic among the people gathered here. Some of the amped-up young men seem to be gesturing victory after the shooting, fists up in a giant V, seemingly directed towards someone to the north. Was the sniper quickly shot dead? By who? Unknown.
August, 2011 Houla Massacre (mangled men)
Activist videos filmed August 7, 2011 show at least three bodies found in a vacant field, at mid-day. Looking at least a day old (stiffness, discoloration, maggots), they suggest the time of death was perhaps late on the 5th. They’re described as victims of "AlHula Massacre," who were "torn (by) Syrian army tanks shells during the invasion of Houla." They do seem to be horribly mangled, victims of shelling/explosives or worse. Interestingly, August 5, 2011 is the death date given by official sources for policeman Abrahem KamelHasan, killed in Taldo. No other victims appeared in conjunction.
The six relevant videos are collected in this handy playlist, for reference. The most widely-seen of the bodies is shown being carried in “Al Hula 7-8-2011 AlHula massare” (0:41, alt posting) with subtitles blaming Assad’s Shabiha, and taunting Turkey’s Erdogan for waiting on reforms. By dress he’s a civilian, a lean older man with a receded hairline. His dirt-crusted face is punctured in many spots with small, deep holes as if jabbed with and ice-pick. Notably, his neck is coated with blood, but not sliced - the skin has somehow peeled off. All this and his tattered bloody clothes suggest all-around brutality, perhaps dragged behind a vehicle. The truck he's laid in has a length of rope he's lain atop of.
Another re-posting describes a “victim awfully murdered by unknown criminal act.” It would seem like that, so it's startling to notice that the man is apparently not dead. As he lays in the truck, his head rolls from side-to-side with the rhythm of forced breathing (neck flexing and slight mouth movements can be seen), and his right arm seems to flex at 0:43. The breathing is much clearer in another disgusting video at 0:31-0:42. It’s not clear if the rebels notice that he’s alive- their repeated Allah references aren’t clear to us, although it sounds like they include Shadid, martyr.
The second victim is less-seen, but more brutalized yet, and definitely dead (graphic video). His left arm is loose, the upper bones redered gone, squished like a section of hose. His lower legs are badly broken and burned-looking, but intact. He’s naked from the waist down, privates and abdomen covered with his missing shirt, apparently (white, checked, not fighter garb). The right arm also looks tweaked and possibly burnt, but intact. Further, his right shoulder, back of neck area has an unseen massive injury that has leaked a lot of blood on the dirt here, suggesting this field is where he was subjected to shelling, or was dumped shortly afterwards.
A later-posted video of the same day (from the Houla Media Office) shows this victims with better resolution, carried, and laid in a truck. His right arm is torn trough in several spots. Another view (cited above - HMO alt posting) also has better detail and shows him laid alongside the first-described, still-living victim (also with better detail). Besides the wounds seen elsewhere, this corpse also has a large hole in the upper abdomen, left side. Maggots are visible here on the wounds, suggesting around 36 hours or more has passed since his death. Muslim custom mandates burial within 24 hours when possible, so whoever left these bodies added another humiliation in that way.
A thrid victim is in worse shape yet and isn’t shown being picked up (more graphic yet). This one’s legs are gone below the mid-thigh, and he’s naked from the waist down, not covered. The man’s genitals and that whole area is torn away in what seems a separate injury, leaving a scooped out pelvis. He may have a right arm (unclear angle) but the left arms is gone, and the whole upper left torso is obliterated, his head mostly detached. There is not too much blood, and no sign of the missing parts here, suggesting he was killed elsewhere and dumped in this field.
The two dead men especially look like the victim of a brutal drawing-and-quartering of the pulling/dismemberment type (Wikipedia). But they also look like some of the more extreme battle dead one can see, or a bit like the victims of the Saad Street RPG incident of May 25, 2012: right by a rebel firing RPGs in Taldou, one had his legs blasted off at the thigh, removing the pants, and the back of another’s head was blasted off. Like these, they were killed explosively in the open (following arrest, perhaps), filmed as shelling victims, and then recovered by rebels. These August victims had it worse, perhaps with more leisure, absent the heat of a major battle.
September 19, 2011 Houla Massacre (the rampage)
The first major media-promoted Houla massacre - with about 100 fewer victims than the main one - was reported by opposition activists to Reuters, who reported on the recent event September 19, 2011:
- Syrian forces shot dead at least six villagers and two rebel soldiers on Monday, in a sweep of countryside north of the city of Homs, one of the most defiant regions in pro-democracy protests, activists and residents said.
- The assault on Houla, a collection of villages north of Homs, 165 km (100 miles) north of Damascus, followed a large protest on Sunday demanding Assad's removal. About 12 government soldiers manning rural checkpoints had defected, activists said.
- "Several of the defectors put up a fight but they were overwhelmed. The rest were civilians who were killed by the random gunfire from the tanks as they went through al-Houla," said a resident who gave his name as Abu Yazan.
- He said 14 people, including school-age students, were arrested in Taldo, Kfar Laha, Takltheb Tibeh and Iqreb villages. 
An activist video dated September 19 (but uploaded Sept. 18) cannot show the aftermath of this rampage, partly at least in Taldou, along main street. Some building are shot-up, a crest on the city arches is gone (never replaced), and several power poles have been shot down. Government trucks are there fixing some of them already. Nothing like tank shelling is evident. 
November 2, 2011 Houla Massacre (Warehouse)
(more details on this coming)
November 20-24 Houla Massacres (children, a school, a doctor)
(more details on this coming)
April 5 Houla Massacre (a military family)
A video from Al-Houla, showing three members of a family piled dead outside their home, has been cited around (including by the UN's investigators) as being from the famous massacre. The troubling fact is it shows one young boy, laid out by himself aside from his parents, wearing a red-white-and-black wristband, Syria’s national colors. However, this incident is older, as a critical analysis videos on Youtube was up by this April 25 posting. The one they look at was posted April 6, and not an original posting either - stabilized and unnaturally blurred, the key detail is still visible. The Arabic title on that translates "Hula massacre after the bombing of a house officer dissident Mohammed Sawaf." Being an officer would explain the kid's attire, and could explain the family's targeting. Being called dissident ("defector") does not explain the colors, but might help the killers launder their crime.
The same title leads to the apparent original posting, by activist Houla Amr Faour, on April 5, including the same effects. His channel contains other April 5 videos (translated titles): Hula targeting mosque faith in Hula - Hula parents reaction after reaction shells and the occurrence of the massacre - Hula massacre woman and her son. The last is a night view, poorly lit. The boy is clearly the same, with the same wristband still on his right arm, but pushed now up to his little elbow (see lower view, enhanced for visibility)
The videography is puzzling, if seen as a covered-up rebel crime; they could have concealed the wristband any number of way (rolling him on the other arm, hiding him entirely in the pile with the rest, removing the thing). But instead it's left prominently displayed in two videos. This makes sense either as an attempt to make this look like a rebel crime, or as a rather bold warning it was hoped loyalist Syrians would catch while the outside world missed it.
Another activist's view of "dissident Sawaf’s" wife and son, apparently (“a woman and her child”), wrapped in a blanket, was posted on April 5. Here seen outside in fading daylight, wrapped in a blanket, their death is branded “as a result of heavy shelling,” with no follow-up massacre mentioned. As he’s handled, the boy’s right arm is not seen, although the clarity of view is best here. Accompanying videos of April 5 show two areas on Houla (not placed, could be anywhere in Houla) with smoke and damage from shelling/mortars/whatever. One house has a hole through an eave, and another that looks similar to Amr Faour's scene with the bodies (no bodies yet) pours smoke. That video shows a small-looking person running across the screen, along the compound's outer wall and into the fields, extremely fast (0:02-0:12). That one didn’t die, or run towards the rebel cameraman nearby. The location can be set for that - here on Google maps, 530-540 meters east of the clock tower, along a north-south alley with a mosque - also damaged -at the north end.
A side-note: The Syrian Center for Documentation (see below) notes at least two events for April 5, neither of them being this massacre of a family. One report says "Armed rebels target the main electrical generator," taking out power to the Al-Houla area. There are no lights on to prove that wrong, but it's still marginally daylight. For the night shot of the boy and his mother, there is no normal lighting at that locale (a situation that also accompanied the Houla massacre, although the rebels had acquired brighter portable lights by then). Another dispatch says there were clashes that day, with "a leader of an armed militia" killed. Surely they don't mean the officer Mohammed Sawaf?
More on this: the video cited "Hula massacre after the bombing of a house officer dissident Mohammed Sawaf," seemingly a man, woman and a young boy around 7-9. But the other rebel-supplied info seeming to connect to this has no such name. LCC report for April 5 says: "Homs: Hawleh: Saba Kamal Ismaeel (19 years old), Adnan Aiman Ismaeel (8 years old), and Haswa Al-Akash were martyred after the city was shelled." These three names appear in the LCC-informed VDC martyrs database.
- Adnan Ayman Ismaiel, boy, age 8, killed in shelling in Houla April 5.
- Saba Kamal Ismaiel Age 19, Houla, shelling - it's biologically possible she's his mother ...
- Hasswe Alaakesh adult male, age not given, Houla, shelling, April 5.
As for Sawaf, not quite but there was a Khaldoon Hassan al-Sawwah, a doctor, killed in Khaldiyeh homs, shooting, that same day.
Ahmad Khalel Sawah: Non-Civilian (usually means rebel fighter), age 19, died 2012-04-09, four days too late, it says. Where from, not said. Martyrdom location: Baba-Amr. Cause of Death: Field Execution. Rank:Conscript (rebel fighters usually marked FSA). Conscript" usually describes Syrian Arab Army members, not "Free Army." Yet he's on the martyr's list, not the "regime fatalties" one, so ... one of their conscripts, a conscript who defected? Or just fudged into this list? A name that could be Sawaf, military if not officer, ambiguous status at time of death, field executed by someone in the rebel hotbed, they say, a few days after the incident here. Right age to be Saba's husband and Adnan's uncle, perhaps, with his father Mohammed just not mentioned in most sources. Otherwise, the case remains a bit unclear.
Medical Personnel Killed
An opposition acitivist group (Doctor Coordinate of Damascus) provided Physicians for Human Rights with details on medical personnel killed in the first year of the Syrian conflict. These are compiled here, 55 names, three of them from Al-Houla. They were victims of "the violent crackdown in Syria," they heard, although they were "unable to independently verify these details." Exact words re-formatted and in chronological order:
- Sameer Bakour, Pharmacist: Killed 22 Apr 2011 in Homs, Teldo. Shot.
- Nadhem Ibrahim, Hospital Director: killed 13 Aug 2011 in Homs, Alhula. Car shelled.
- Ma’ath Abdulkarim Al faris, Physician: killed 24 Nov, 2011 in Homs, Hula. Arrested and tortured to death.
Attacks on the public bus system have a few possible meanings, but one is to single out Alawites from surrounding villages who dare enter their bastions of Sunni extremist purity. As explained (in an excellent article) for an April, 2011 bus attack in coastal Jableh: A March 25 video showed demonstrators there holding sticks and swords and chanting anti-Shia (anti-Alawi) slogans, while another video, uploaded April 9, "goes beyond that. Protesters actually attacked minibuses that work as public transportation on villages’ routes, which has a clear sectarian significance in that town." And it could be so in other towns. --Caustic Logic (talk) 05:30, 30 November 2013 (UTC) German intelligence: al-Qaeda all over Syria By John Rosenthal, Asia Times, July 24, 2012: A Sunni resident of Homs told Hackensberger that he had witnessed how an armed group stopped a bus: "The passengers were divided into two groups: on the one side, Sunnis; on the other, Alawis." According to Hackenberger's source, the insurgents then proceeded to decapitate the nine Alawi passengers. --Caustic Logic (talk) 12:27, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
- Aug. 14, 2011, L.C.C. Daily summary) (2nd oldest I could find):
- Homs: Hawla : Mohammad Hussain Ali was excuted by shabiha (regime’s armed thugs) supported by security forces in a checkpoint on Homs-Hawla road, all Hawla residents (based on ID cards) were forces to get off a bus and Mohammad Hussain Ali was shot directly, the bus was also shot and 7 were wounded
- To me, that name Mohammed Hussain Ali sounds pretty non-Sunni. Just what happened to the passengers isn't spelled out, but again we have some kind of divisision into groups, possibly based on Houla residency as stated here. --Caustic Logic (talk) 05:30, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
- Location - probably Taldou or south of it. http://www.uruknet.de/?p=m80528 Next day LCC summary] says "Al-Hawla: a convoy of tanks and personnel carriers have entered Teldo-Homs road this dawn where they spread in the streets and a number of these vehicles have settled around A-Hurria (freedom) square. Also, around 100 cars loaded with thugs headed to the north.Electricity, water, and landlines are cutoff and heavy random gunfire."
- Dec. 5, 2011 - Local Coordination Committees, via Uruknet: http://www.uruknet.de/?p=m83677
In the midst of the early December sectarian killings playing out in nearby Homs (reported details and videos to be had there) this also was reported:
- Homs : Hawleh : thugs kidnapped a micro-bus working on the Hawleh route. 14 passengers were on the bus including 6 female students, the driver Ammar Awad Ismaeel is a native of Taldo.
Syrian Center for Documentation entries
The Syrian Center for Documentation is a Syria-based project that reports some of both sides' information, keping an extensive record of events (by number, not detail), and maintains a fairly neutral tone, while clearly from its graphics and lack of the usual shrieking against Assad, is ultimately supportive of the Syrian government. Some of their entries from 2011-May 2012, a fairly complete list looking for the different spelling used, is given below. Of special note is their general failure to mention the massacres rebels were constantly showing video proof of.
- Beneath some entries, extra information from other sources, mainly Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (CDV) - similarly named but different - bigger and more useable database, strong pro-rebel bias.
- Aug 5, 2011 Death date given for policeman Abrahem KamelHasan, killed in Taldo.
- Aug. 7, 2011: Death date given for Muhammad mahmoud joumaa alhajaj, killed in homs-alhoula.
- VDC entry: Mohammed Goma'a Mahmoud al-jaj: Age 22, from Idlib, Qalaa. "Soldier." Died Aug 7 in Homs : Houla dead link.
- Both these entries appear on this list of regime casualties, Aug. 6-7, listed by origin, so other Houla victims may appear. Rastan ones do. And there are interplays between these names and those appearing on this martyrs list for the same span. This is best covered somewhere else.
- Nov. 1, 2011: " . Arrest of Ayman Youssef on the army checkpoint in the Hula. Activists say that he arrested because his name was included in one of the most wanted lists.
- Dec. 12, 2011: "the dead body of a thirty years old man arrive to the national hospital coming from Taldo where it was dumped in front of the revolution youth union (affiliated to Ba'ath party) headquarter."
- Jan. 20, 2012: "Gunmen attacked security checkpoints in Taldo and Al-Houla located in Homs’ outskirt."
- Jan 28: "Armed rebels attack an army checkpoint located in Taldo area in Homs which leads to the death of a number of the rebels"
- February 1, 2012: "Shootings and bombings were heard in Al-Sabeel and Al-Hawla neighborhood last night."
- Feb. 5, 2012: "An anti-government gathering takes place in Al-Hawla area of Homs and raises the mandate flag."
- March 12, 2012: "Gunmen bomb a diesel pipeline located in Al-Hawla area between Hama and Homs"
- March 14: "Clashes between the Syrian Army and armed militias take place in Tal Dahab village located in Al-Hawla village of Homs countryside and result in the death of gunmen, the injury of others and the capture of their weapons."
- March 19: "Ahmad Mouafak Asber gets killed in Al-Howla area of Homs countryside and anti-government activists accuse the security force of killing him." March 19, 2012: "Ahmad Mouafak Al-Esper’s funeral takes place in Al-Hawla area and turns into an anti-government demonstration."
- March 23: "An anti-government gathering occurs in Al-Hawla area of Homs countryside so what the opposition called “we are coming to Damascus” Friday."
- March 26, 2012: "Armed rebels bomb a fuel pipeline located nearby Taldo in Al-Hawla area of Homs countryside." 
- April 5, 2012: "Armed rebels target the main electrical generator of Al-Hawla area located in Homs countryside which results in a power outage in the area."  April 5: "A leader of an armed militia is killed during clashes with the Syrian Army in Al-Hawla area of Homs countryside. 
- April 7: Armed militias attack a number of security checkpoints in Al-Hawla area of Homs countryside; no causalities are recorded.
Violence After "the Massacre"
De-Population After May 25
It appears that the plan of the massacre was, in part, to displace a large number of people. The AP reported May 26 that "(Houla activist) Abu Yazan said most residents were fleeing the area Saturday, fearing further killings." Further, Bassma Kodmani "of the exile opposition Syrian National Council" underlined the crimes of "expulsions and forced migration from entire neighborhoods."  Opposition sources have always described the populace there, as everywhere, as inherently anti-government, witnessed by the regular Friday protests that eventually drew such extreme repression. Clearing them out would make it easier for the government to control the area.
How populated different areas of Al-Houla are now is an area needing further study.
As of May 26 and 27, the south of Taldou, which saw the massacre and the heaviest fighting, was apparently empty of living people, and the center was at least sparse. The north of town, where rebels had prevailed, had plenty of people to meet the Channel 4 news crew and UN monitors.
By November, a video of bombardment (embedded below) shows quite a few civilians, including children and perhaps whole families, living in the east of town, the center, and even a bit south of center. A January, 2013 Friday protest at martyr's square in the north of town drew quite a crowd. Whether these are all Taldou locals or from elsewhere in Houla in uncertain (video).
Al-Houla Under Rebel Control
Already by May 25 rebels, even fighters, had a high amount of mobility, if not quite control, in Al-Houla in general. A rebel fighting brigade was formed in Taldou in the spring of 2012 to further their reach. (citations needed)
As mentioned above, the opposition argues that clearing out the rebellious populace would make it easier for the government to control the area. What appears to have happened instead is that rebels took general control of what became nearly a ghost town. As of mid September, the area of Houla and east of it to Ar Rastan and Talbisah is the opposition stronghold of Homs province and remains under their control. (citation needed)
Videos show the southern outskirts of Taldou as a ghost town. Some video documentation: FNN Syria Homs al Houla Destruction in the area close to the site of the massacre 12 9 2012
There are many,many videos and reports, some of them at least credible, of continued Syrian military attacks on Al-Houla and Taldou in particular. These run from the days immediately after the massacre and run thick into June. Thereafter they continue more sporadically.
Perhaps one of the more dramatic videos of continued military attacks on Taldou is this 20-minute epic of fighter jet attacks on November 6. Host Jalal Suleiman takes the viewer all around town as numerous powerful bombs come down in a city that has power and a moderate number of civilian inhabitants. (Further notes in time and/or see the discussion page.)
Taldou, November 6, 2012
Further Massacres (Reported)
At least two adult male members of the Salama (" سلامة" - "safety") family were horribly killed on or before May 30, 2012, somewhere in Al-Houla. The following videos were recently re-posted by the SOHR on their Youtube channel.
- حمص الحولة 30-5-الشهيد محمد عبداللطيف سلامة "Homs Hula 30.5 - Shahid Mohammed Abdul-Latif Salama." Nasty upper head wound worth some diagnosis, small bullet-holes or punctures and perhaps burn marks all over torso, hip injury, possible holes in left side of neck, forehead, gray (smoke-stained?) face.
- حمص - الحولة 30-5 الشهيد احمد سلامة (منظر مروع ) "Homs - Hula 30.5 Martyr Ahmed Salama (shocking view)" Seen in a truck bed, his head is hafl-detached as we've seen before, back of skull blown away, face flopping like a heavy mask that's also split down the middle. The swollen and discolored neck suggests some hours at least since he was so mutilated.
Al-Houla Rebels in Action
Attack on Aqrab
- Main article: Aqrab Massacre
Rebel-held Al-Houla has a special distinction for staging perhaps the worst-yet act of genocide against the same Alawite sect they've spent so long demonizing. On December 2, 2012, a mass of rebel fighters from Al-Houla, Rastan, and elsewhere descended on the town of Aqrab, just a couple miles north of Houla's Tal-Dahab. A spat with the Alawite community there had escalated, and they hit the Alawite district back. 1,500 fled, the remaining 500 were taken hostage by the rebels, and 300 were released in trades with the government (all numbers approximate). By the night of December 10, they told a world that didn't know that information yet, Alawite Shabiha held the remaining 200 in a house. Rebels and survivors in their custody, in Al-Houla, swore the Shabiha murdered their co-religionists by exploding the house, followed by army shelling and air force bombs. But the house that other escapees (not rebel-held) pointed to as their prison was belching smoke but standing the next day. One says they had been burning tires in the to suffocate the people, besides denying food and water. The world now acknowledges the rebels lied and had their witnesses support that lie, apparently under durress. They alone held those men, women, and children, and if anyone killed them, it was those same rebels. No proof either way has yet been offered or demanded, but considering the conditions described, it's hard to imagine many of them survived for long.
Attack on Busatin Al-Haswiyeh
- Main article: Haswiyeh Massacre
There's little evidence yet to directly link Houla-based rebels to the January 15 massacre in this northern fringe area of Homs city. There is however some. Proximity makes it possible, with a bare 20 km, most of it open fields, between Taldou and the orchards of Haswiyeh that locals says hundreds of rebels took control of just before the killings. The best link is that Houla-based activists had detailed information on the alleged government killing. Activist Abu Yazan/Yazen, cited repeatedly on this page, is one of the prime sources on the later massacre. Speaking to Reuters:
- Abu Yazen, an opposition activist in Homs, said the rebel Free Syrian Army occasionally entered the farmland of Basatin al-Hasawiya to attack a nearby military academy. "Assad's forces punish civilians for allowing the rebels to enter the area," he said.  (In contrast, locals said the opposite - rebels killed locals for refusing to help them.) AP also spoke with him:
- Haswiyeh is controlled by government forces, but activists said many of its residents have sons in the Free Syrian Army, the main rebel group fighting to topple Assad's forces."This is a purely sectarian attack meant to punish the rebels by targeting their families," said Abu Yazan, an opposition activist speaking via Skype from Houla. 
- Syrian forces kill eight near Homs: activists By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters, AMMAN | Mon Sep 19, 2011 6:29pm EDT
- الحولة آثار القصف المدفعي الذي قام به الجيش الأسدي على المنازل و الشوارع و أعمدة الكهرباء (Hula effects shelling carried out by the army Asadi on homes, streets and electricity poles) Published Sept.18, 2011 by Monther Hrfosh
- Homs 2012-03-26 Syrian Center for Documentation March 26, 2012
- Homs 2012-04-05 Syrian Center for Documentation April 5, 2012
- Newsletter April 5, Eglish sectionSyrian Center for Documentation, April 5, 2012
- Activists put Syria attack death toll at 110 Associated Press via Ynet news, May 26, 2012
- Massacre of over 100 reported in Syria's Homs By Oliver Holmes, Reuters, January 19, 2013 7:04pm GMT
- Syrian pro-regime gunmen kill more than 100 By Bassem Mroue and eina Karam, Associated Press, January 17, 2013