April 29, 2011 in Deraa

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April 29, 2011, was the Friday protest day dubbed "break the siege." In the town of Saida, Deraa, protests and/or the response turned violent that afternoon. Everyone agrees the events were at or near a military housing area, many people shot dead, and some allegedly abducted, imprisoned by security forces and later on deliberate murdered following brutal and senseless torture. These include famous child martyr Hamza al-Khatib, another teenage boy, a 72-year-old man, and up to 17 others. The Hamza al-Khatib case rose to the world's attention after his body was shown on video in late May, after it was returned to his family, allegedly abducted, tortured, and murdered by security forces. The others all tend to have died, at least some with similar visible abuses, and were also handed back finally in late May or even June.

This purportedly obvious evidence of repression sparked major outcries and was called by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a "tuning point in Syria." It's often cited as one of the key moments that sealed an inevitable slide into a worsening civil war, from what had been (largely) peaceful protests, populated in part by harmless, chubby 13-year-olds who love pigeons. Their simple peaceful protest that day was met with ruthless - and even ridiculous - repression and brutality.

As usual, the government of Syria offered their own narrative involving armed Salafist terrorists, in a conspiracy funded by outside powers to destabilize the state. As usual, they had that largely dismissed - in the Western mainstream discourse, anyway. There, the consensus remained on the opposition claims, which were taken as obviously true. Here we'll attempt a more balanced and skeptical review of the record. In fact, as usual, we'll slant it a bit in the government's favor, in the interest of overall balance. And we'll keep it centered on the events of April 29, which remain poorly understood. This is the day it's said Hamza and the others were first detained for all this abuse and eventual execution. But it seems likely this was the day he both died and suffered all that violence, before he was ever "arrested" as unidentified body #23 that evening.

Reported Events

Location: Saida on Wikimapia, just east of Deraa city. Hamza and others came from al-Jeezah to the southeast. The incident is said to have occurred in or near the military housing complex, marked on the eastern edge of Saida.

Pro-Government Version

Syrian state TV reports explained how people began to gather in different villages of Daraa province after Friday Prayer on the 29th, "responding to inciting calls for Jihad, which were taken advantage of by armed groups to attack army, police and security forces and citizens." The collected people than "set off toward the military housing compound in Said (Saida) area." “At that time, armed members showed up among the crowd and succeeded in misleading many young children into going with them to fire at the compound’s guards whose chief was martyred,” the report continues. [1] The opposition VDC cites pro-government dampress.net to list what's likely this chief guard - corporal Rawad Mohsen Deeb, age 26, from Tartous, killed by shooting in Deraa.

State TV aired the account of Abdel Aziz al-Khateeb, who claimed to be close friend of Hamza's. He said (as translated) “On Friday, April 29th, I joined Hamza al-Khateeb and Mohammad Sweidan and Abdel Majeed al-Khateeb to the gathering place where we met other people from al-Mseifra and Bosra. We headed to the military residences in Saida accompanied by armed men." He also mentions they had been equipped with "sharp arms" handed out by a local blacksmith. "As we reached there, some demonstrators opened fire toward the compound injuring one soldier. Later, there was a heavy fire exchange and we had to hide behind trees.” [1]

Judge Samer Abbas told Syrian TV "“At a late hour on Friday 29/4/2011, we were informed by the (coroner's office) that body for unidentified boy was in the hospital,” referring to Hamza al-Khatib. [1] They say his body was found inside the housing complex, and it seems several other bodies were found as well, and would be documented that night. By morgue photos leaked in 2015, child victim Thamer al-Sharei was ascribed number 12, and Hamza was given #23 (exact meaning unclear - see below)

Opposition Version

Amnesty International's report explains from activists and "people close to the family" of Hamza al-Khatib how he "joined many hundreds of people from al-Jeeza and other villages around Dera’a in peaceful marches towards the city in a symbolic attempt to break the blockade" As they happened to pass one random spot along the way, the report continues, "the protesters were attacked by Syrian security forces, who reportedly shot at them near the Saida military compound and arrested several hundred people." [2] Al Jazeera heard from a cousin of Hamza's and reported how "the firing began almost as soon as the villagers reached the edge of Saida." [3]

An eyewitness in another group told Amnesty International that he and some 20 others were in a van that happened to find itself "in the middle of the protest" as it was forming near "an area called Saida Military Residences, a housing complex for military personnel." People were waving olive branches and chanting "peaceful, peaceful." But then some chanted “Allahu akhbar!” and "a soldier called back “Chant for your own souls” and a minute later shooting suddenly began." Everyone left the van, took cover, and then tried to run, but 72-year-old Mahmoud al-Zoubi (al-Zu’bi) was too slow and was arrested (and of course brutally killed)[2]

Seven al-Zoubis, aged 17-72, were among the 20 captured this day and then murdered, according to the report. [2] Was Mahmoud's slowness from age, or just something that runs in the family?

Hamza's cousin told al-Jazeera "People were killed and wounded, some were arrested. It was chaotic we didn't know at that point what had happened to Hamza. He just disappeared." An activist told them Hamza was one of a total of 51 protesters detained that day. "They were all arrested by the anti-terrorism branch of the Airforce Intelligence," said the activist. "They were all alive when they went into prison, but we received 13 bodies back this week and all had been tortured. The Airforce Intelligence are notorious for torture, they're barbarians. We're expecting another dozen bodies back in the coming days." (report filed May 31) [3]

Video Record of Events

The following three videos are described showing the events of April 29 near Saida, and seem consistent with the area per satellite imagery.

  • Vid1 46:11 التصويرالكامل لأحداث مجزرة صيدا +18 (released on 2-year anniversary, longer version perhaps than available before). Filmed from the building marked below as site A, gets a good overview in time and space. Detailed description below.
  • Vid2 3:02 (graphic) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDxAkpP4_nI people at the head of the column are just passing the compound's front gate when the shooting starts. They leave the road and take shelter at an unfinished structure on the south side, shown on the map below (Vid2). A white van is immobile nearby, perhaps from which a terrified man with wounded face and strange neck injury emerges to shelter here.
  • Vid3 2:37 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTvJ6yh-6Uw Massacre in Saida, near Daraa, 29/4/2011 - more chaotic ground-level view, filmed from around the area marked below Vid3. Initial view is to the west, where the house marked D is visible, along with a mosque further out (cropped off here). At 0:45 this shows men swarming around and perhaps into site D. Then the video shows the earlier part where the shooting starts - same as Vid2, adds little.

(possibly unrelated)

More videos might be found with search for Saida Massacre in Arabic (مجزرة صيدا،)

From the long video Vid1, here is the view west (top) and east (bottom) and the scene map. Blue marks a power pole near it. The green stretch is about where the "protesters" were at the time shooting starts, over a span of 1.5 km back to the mosque in Kahil (minaret circled). Foreground building boxed in white. Orange tried to mark the site of Vid2, but wasn't right.

Saida 11-29-4 views labeled.png
Saida 11-29-4 Scene Map.png

This mapping isn't obvious from the video, with a bunch of large trees at the compound just not appearing. Google Earth historical imagery clears this up. The current view, from 2014, shows an almost-empty complex, with few real trees, and an earthen wall around it, and the road set to "wiggle" and slow traffic in front. In comparison, views from 2011 show a straighter highway, no earthen barrier, an area almost full of buildings housing families, and lots of trees in between. This lets this area fit with the videos with less confusion - the area would be more vulnerable and populated than it became later in the war. Opinions might differ as to what the changes mean.

Saida Mhousing 2011 2014 comp.png

Mapped in more detail using 2011 imagery, and sites labeled:

Saida 11-29-4 Scene map2.png

Vid1 analysis

The first 11 minutes show the cameraman follows the protest convoy setting out and moving, trying for high angles at all chances (on a pole, on a truck, etc.) This footage hasn't been placed or timed, but that might be helpful. There are many trucks and vans, men on motorcycles, and hundreds on foot, perhaps zero women visible, and few if any young teenagers or older men. This is about 3-600 fighting age males. No guns are obviously visible, nor sharp tools, but a closer look is needed. At 10:45, they're entering Kahil, the last town before Saida note minaret ahead on the left).

At 11:23 the cameraman has run ahead, perhaps with others, to a building at the last intersection before Saida (labeled A above and centered here on Wikimapia), 200 meters from the nearest corner of the housing compound's outer edge. The cameraman takes his best position here, with a high vantage over the scene. The full convoy stretches 1.5 km from the mosque in Kahil (minaret circled) to the edge of Saida, or even further, at that time. He films the convoy passing for 36 seconds until the shooting starts (11:59) and during the ensuing scramble, and for another 30 minutes of video, including cuts.

Solar time as shooting starts: Shadow angles across the roadway say the solar azimuth is about 240 degrees (2:20 PM), and altitude around 55 (2:45). So a decent estimate is 2:30, give or take 20 minutes.

After first shooting, Several motorcycles are downed and other vehicles stopped. Some actually stopped or pulled over moments before the shooting starts. Few if any bodies seem to be laying around in this area. Most ran to the south, into the orchards or, if near site B, north behinds its buildings. The area of people down and vehicles stopped is not totally clear, but perhaps mainly to the west, consistent with being shot from anywhere within range of that area. Most of the men pull back to a safer zone around site A and further east. Some perhaps turn back, but most stay back here.

Sporadic shooting continues, with bursts at 17:38. At 18:00-18:30 there are excited shouts and some forward movement, then distant shots and falling back, then moving into the buildings to the north, and the video cuts. At 19:00 occupying the house to the east (site C), going around all sides. Sharper than usual gunshots are heard, and the video cuts, resuming moments later looking the same way but with no view of site C.

22:30 outside the compound perimeter but close, some crouching person or two, with something metal (reflects a flash of sunlight), perhaps shooting (direction not immediately clear).

32:15 Faced with the surprise shooting, as presented, most are refusing to leave, digging in as if preparing for a fight. The roadside at site B is cleared of vehicles but for a few motorcycles, maybe after evacuating wounded. But the furthest abandoned vehicles remain in front of the gate, possibly as cover and barricades for some coming action. Men on foot move forward in larger numbers as others pull further back towards Kahil. At site B's front lot they're gathering and likely discussing plans. They move north to surround and perhaps occupy buildings there.

33:00 a truck that's pulled in at site A, between the two trees out front, or perhaps people in the smaller building there (or both) might be distributing something to men who walk or jog from the truck over to the lot or buildings at site B. This could be the truck of the local blacksmith, for example.

Saida 11-29-4 Defenders 3710.png

37:10: is an important moment. a bit outside the compound perimeter, just a bit south of the spot shown at 22:30, three armed men are seen waving their files and shouting, acting like they own the place. Two might fire in the air, while the middle gunman seems to fire straight over to the lot at site B, shooting at least one demonstrator there. The trio seems to turn back quickly towards the compound and vanish. Prominent gestures between them suggest either approval or disapproval of the shooting.

This could be a defensive action, but the gunmen might run to this spot from the north (movements around 36:40 at top edge), stop here for the shooting performance (app. 10 seconds), and then they seem to run (to the south-southwest) as soon as they're behind trees, but still outside the compound's outer treeline. They are are want to be seen as base defenders, but the running could suggest they were dong all this while trying to evade the base's guards.

37:45-55: Looking at area between the highway and the nearest corner of the housing compound - just a few meters south of where the shooters were 30 seconds earlier, jogging about this way - we can see more suspicious running. Two men run from the highway's edge towards or into the compound, one tripping on a rock at first. At the same time, another man runs out. He could be one of the shooters seen 30 seconds earlier just a few meters to the north. As the three pass each other, they don't seem to be enemies. But shooting is all around, direction unclear, hitting the roadside nearby. The one running out stops, turns back a bit, takes cover and kneels, as if aiming a rifle towards the protester side (south, at or across the highway). Another man who was hiding behind the light pole joins him, as someone shoots the base of the light pole he was at. They seems to stay hidden/invisible there.

Together, this suggests these are base defenders, or at least they're pretending to be. That would put the "front line" of this "protest" at the abandoned vehicles in the road, which protesters still hide behind sometimes, as they keep running back and forth on their own side of that line. But no one is clearly seen crossing that line. The others are running back and forth in this one area just outside the compound's nearest corner. If they're pretending, then these would be forward protesters, moving freely in that corner. All they had to do was know when the one cameraman was looking their way and avoid crossing the "front line" at those moments. (if someone almost did, they would approach the highway's edge, pause and turn back, act like a defender, and disappear, like one guy is seen doing)

Saida 11-29-4 Shoes.png

38:28: a sudden cut and to the moments after a man has been shot in the road, right in front of the cameraman. What might be his shoes lay meters away on the road. His feet appear bare and slightly dirty, as if he had taken off his shoes, walked a few steps, and then been shot down in the middle of this rebel-held stretch of highway. We see them react by falling on him and quickly loading his body in a truck, which drives back to the east. One demonstrator tries to see the victim, and hits the railing with a stick as it drives off.

To clarify the implication: in the Arab world, people are often made to take off their shoes before they're executed. It's not clear why else someone would take off their shoes in the middle of a highway where alleged regime snipers were shooting people dead, an area people where people usually ran hunched over or stayed away. Is this someone rebels would want to execute? Was he shot at close range, or by an embedded sniper working with them? Where would they find the victim? In the compound? In a nearby house they occupied? In a passing vehicle they stopped? From within their own ranks?

Solar time: At the 38:28 scene, shadows on the road are from almost due west. One attempt to read azimuth and elevation didn't find a single clear time that fits. A good broad range of times that almost fit runs from about 4:10-4:50 PM. So probably at least 2 hours has elapsed since the first shots, at around 2:10-2:50.

The part where security forces pounce on the protesters and arbitrarily arrest hundreds of them, as alleged ... might be in one of those edits, or it didn't happen within this 2-3 hour span. There are no clear views of security forces at all, and certainly not past the immediate edge of their compound. Maybe the mass arrests came when the army reinforcements finally showed up, sometime before nightfall set in with the compound loaded with protesters.

Even if mass arrests happened right after the video ends, it's not clear why many would be waiting around, other than to try and reclaim an abandoned vehicle. With the orchard as cover, anyone could have used that 2 hours or more to creep back around building A to re-join the long column in a safer zone and find a ride back home.

Reported Victims

Amnesty's report lists 20 people detained April 29 and then killed, largely documented on video with torture marks.

Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, age 13 - Tamer Mohamed al-Shar’i, 15 - Hussam Ahmed al-Zu’bi, 17 - Nazir Abd al-Qadr al-Zu’bi, 20 - Mahmoud Abd al-Rahman al-Zu’bi, 72, 4 other al-Zu'bi (Zoubi) men (Basheer Abd al-Rahman, Mohamed Hussayn, Osama Hussayn Abd al-Qadr, Sameer Abd al-Qadr), and 12 other men "reported to have died after being taken into cutody on 29 April"(Abd al-Jawaad Barakaat al-Turekmani, Ahmed Hassan al-Aqaab, al-Sami Mohamed al-Muhsin, Khalid Mohamed al-Mubarak, Mohamed Ahmed al-Ramadan, Mohamed Abd al-Rahman Yehyeh, Mohamed al-Al’wi al-Saleem al-Kalash, Mohamed Sulayman Khalif al-Rafaa’i, Saleh Mohamed al-Muqdad, Sami Mohamed Maqbal al-Masalmeh, Tamer Subhy al-Qadaah, and Dhiyaa al-Kafry). [2]

VDC martyrs database: 86 martyrs from Daraa province killed April 29: 1 FSA, 85 civilians. 79 men, 4 boys, 1 woman, 1 girl. 76 are listed as killed by "shooting."

The VDC has 24 listed as killed by by Detention-Torture, with dates (arrest or body return) up to 4 July. these 10 - 8 men and two boys, Hamza, and Thamer, are listed by arrest date, April 29.

They also list a loss on the 'regime' side: from a total of 8 killed that day, one is listed as dead by shooting in Daraa, no details.

A fuller list of victims comes from expanding the date: some listed by detention date, most by body returned on, none by actual date, which is unknown. Body returns were happening by at least May 16, and run to 4 July. One (Taleb Khalid Aba Zaid) may not belong, but the rest are clearly alleged victims of the "Saida massacre" killed under torture. So 23-24 total.

Amnesty heard "several hundred people" were arrested in total, but most were perhaps normal arrests. [2] Al-Jazeera heard form an unnamed activist that 51 people were arrested by Air Force intelligence and expected to be killed. Of these "we received 13 bodies back this week" (up to May 31) and "we're expecting another dozen bodies back in the coming days." [3] That would about 25 bodies expected, the other half of his alleged 51, perhaps not expected. In the end, it seems about 23-24 bodies were returned.

Victims Correlation

Incomplete table comparing sources for a list of those shot in the incident vs. allegedly detained and tortured.

Names alphabetical by family name, then middle names going backward to keep kin close.

AI=Anmesty International report. [2] This only lists 20 alleged detainees later handed back. Victims of that class listed by VDC but not AI are noted no match. Victims of "shooting" should have no match.

VDC entry # shows when entries were added (relatively). The earliest entries are in the upper 600s and 700s, while much later ones are in the 13-16,000 range. (what dates these correlate to is not set, and it's not even clear the VDC database was up at the time - this might all be retrospective addition)

Victims by Source
shot tortured /taken Amnest Int'l VDC Vid/notes notes
s1 Zaher Ahmad Theab Al-Aaeash from Saida, He died at the Bridge of Siada for trying to break the siege of Dara
s2 Ahmad Abd Al-Majed Al-Ali (older man by photo) from Jizah, Was shot at the head of Saida the military housing. VDC13620
s3 Esmaeel Abd Al-Lateef Al-Balhkei From Om Walad Village, from the martyrs of the massacre of Siada

s? t1? Mohamed Mohammad Al-Balkhee, 30 funeral videos married, 2 children, from Busra Al-Sham, Did not hand over the body to her family,until 17\5\ 2011, after 18 days from the date of death VDC14494
t2 no match Mohammad Ahmad Abdulrahman al-Ghazzawi from Busra al-Sham. date 2011-05-16
s4 Ebrahem Saleh Al-Kasor Al-Harere from "Basr al-Harir" (Busra al-Sham with a name mix-up?)
s5 Ali Mahmod Abo Horan from Gharieh Sharqeye, 4th year engineering student, Seida Massacre. VDC679
s6 Omar Abo Horaan VDC681

t3 Mahmoud Ahmad al-Rshedat (Irshaidat - الرشيدات) from Eastern Karak, nurse,"One of the martyrs of Saida massacre where he was aiding wounded during the massacre and was injured. Security forces kidnapped him and was returned dead to his family on this date" 2011-05-22. Cause of death: Detention - Execution (torture not specified, but detained)
s7 Ahmad Mahmod Kadah from Kaheel VDC13602
t4 Tamer Subhy al-Qadaah (Kadah) Thamer Subhi al-Qadakh 27 from Kaheel, married, child, He was martyred in the Palestine Branch due to severe torture. His neck was broken, the back of his head open, his fingers cut off, and signs of electric shock all over his body. He was arrested on the Friday of "Lifting the Siege" in the Saida massacre. Date: 2011-05-22 VDC13602599
t5 Mohamed al-Al’wi al-Saleem al-Kalash Mohamad Al-Elewi Al-Kalash video body #27 decay, cut to neck, eye missing? from Maaraba. Date 2011-07-04 VDC1761
t6 Dhiyaa al-Kafry Deaa Taiseer Al-Kefree, 21 from Ghasm Village, law student, mourning video May 26
t7 Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, age 13, Hamza Ali Al-khateb 13 video, decay morgue photos, body #23, his body was giving to his family in 24/5/2011, The body shows excessive torture marks and several shot wounds, the also cut off his genitals VDC13584
s? t8? Sami Mohamed Maqbal al-Masalmeh Samaa Mohame Mokbel Al-Masalma funeral videos at VDC from Maraba, shooting (note conflict) notes in Arabic, says killed 29-4, body handed over "on that date." Same-day return is unusual. VDC653
s8 Rezeq Eesaa Shebeb Al-Masalma VDC640
s9 Anas Al-Mahamed VDC620 from Daraa al-Balad (rural Daraa)- connection unclear, but likely, see 600 and 601 below
s10 Mohammad Ebrahem Al-Mahamed VDC600 from Daraa al-Balad (rural Daraa)- connection unclear, but likely, see 601 below

s11 Amjad Essa Al-Mahamed VDC619 from Daraa al-Balad (rural Daraa)- connection unclear, but likely, see 600 and 601 below
s12 Ebrahem Rajaa Al-Hseen Mahameed from/connected to Saida VDC601

t9 no match Nazer Jabr (Mohammed?) video body #22, decay from Msaifra
s13 Saleh Jabr al-Mohammad, 24 from Mseifra, his body was handed over on June 7, 2011.
t10 Khalid Mohamed al-Mubarak Khalid Mohammad al-Mubarak from Busra al-Sham. Saida Massacre 2011-05-16
t11 Saleh Mohamed al-Muqdad Saleh Mohammad al-Muqdad funeral videos at VDC Martyrs from Sayda Massacre detained on "end the siege" Friday - date 2011-05-16
t12 al-Sami Mohamed al-Muhsin Al-Sami Mohammad al-Muhsen from Ma'araba "A martyr from Sayda massacre detained on "Lift the Siege" Friday and his body was returned on this date" 2011-05-16
s? t13? Ahmed Hassan al-Aqaab Ahmad Hasan Al-Okaab from Sahweh Village. Note disagreement. VDC15983
t14 Mohamed Ahmed al-Ramadan Mohamed Ahmed al-Ramadan VDC695
s14 Abd Al-Rahman Al-Refaee from Om Walad Village
s15 Alaa Faiez Al-Refaee funeral videos at VDC from Om Walad Village, VDC676
t15 Mohamed Sulayman Khalif al-Rafaa’i Mohammad Sulaiman Khlef al-Rifae' 20 funeral videos at VDC from Om Walad, 2011-06-30 His corpse was returned on this day. His family could not identify his corpse because of the mutilation, and had to request DNA testing. VDC1720
t16 Tamer Mohamed al-Shar’i, 15 Thamer Mohamed Al-Sharaae, 15 video, morgue photos, body #12 from Jizza he was arrested in the massacre in Seda, and returned to the town in 6/8/2011 in a wooden box with distorted body, and organs VDC 652
s16 Khadija Ibrahim Shamou Adult - Female from Saida (note: perhaps zero women are seen in the protest/convoy)
s? t17? Abd al-Jawaad Barakaat al-Turekmani Abd Al-Jaoad Baraat Al-Terkmane from Sahweh Village - cause of death: shooting (not diagreement). VDC15984
t18 Mohamed Abd al-Rahman Yehyeh Mohammad Abdulrahman al-Yahia from Maraba. "A martyr from Sayda massacre detained on "Lift the Siege" Friday and his body was returned on this date" 2011-05-16. VDC 977
s17 Hamod Abd Al-Aziz Al-Zaabe From Saida. VDC631. Note: this name is the same as Zoubi ( الزعبي)
s18 Mohamed Ahmad Abdulaziz Al-Zabee from Teiba VDC696
t19 Nazir Abd al-Qadr al-Zu’bi, 20 Nazer Abdulhakim Abdulqader al-Zubi 19 from Mseifra, His body was delivered on 3-6-2011 VDC15331
t20 Sameer Abd al-Qadr al-Zu'bi Samer Abdulqader al-Saleh (al-Zoubi) Video (Daily Motion) 39, married with 6 ch, from Msaifra, Saida massacre ... his body was handed over on 24-5-2011
t21 Osama Hussayn Abd al-Qadr al-Zu'bi Osama Husain Abdulqader al-Zubi, 27 date: 2011-05-25. Teacher, from Msaifra, Saida Massacre, was arrested on 29-4-2011 and got tortured then was shot
t22 Basheer Abd al-Rahman (or Abdelqader?) al-Zu'bi Basher Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq (al-Zoubi) 37 video green color and bad texture near wounds, noted video with alt. name Bashir Abdelqader al-Zoubi National Number خ102 Married with 4 children, from Msaifra, Employee of the Department of Water. his body was handed over on 26-5-2011 - date of death: 5-21 (call based on the green?) VDC15319 - a son of Abdelqader (see above, brothers aged 20-27) is a better age fit than son of Abdelrahman (see below, brother or coincidence aged 72)
t23 Mahmoud Abd al-Rahman al-Zu’bi, 72 Mahmoud Ahmad Abdulrahman (al-Zoubi), 73 video body # unclear, knee and hand injuries, minor marks on face, small stabs all over the top of his head - decay minimal, gray torso from Mseifra, Saida Massacre... his body was delivered on 23-5-2011 - National Number خ121 - VDC15328
t24 Hussam Ahmed al-Zu’bi, 17 Husam Ahmad Taha al-Zubi 17 video green color all through torso. Body #10? 3rd youngest of 20 tortured detainees, per Amnesty. One of the martyrs in Saida massacre where he was shot on 29 - 4-2011 and the bullet entered from his waist and was out from his shoulder. He was arrested and his body was handed over on 05.21.2011 VDC15320
s19 Mohammad Fayez al-Zubi from Mseifra VDC709
t25 no match Mohammad Hasan al-Zubi, 70 video from Msaifra, married w/10 ch, National Number خ9 - A martyr from the Sayda massacre, he was injured in the neck by a bullet during a demonstration on 4/29/2011 and was detained and tortured, his mutilated corpse was returned on 5/19/2011 - cause of death: shooting - VDC15325
s20 Abd Al-Rahman Jaber Al-Zabee from Saida. VDC665
t26 no match Ahmad Jabr Al-Zaabe from Msaifra VDC 609
s21 Yousef Mohammad al-Zubi from Tiba, Saida Massacre VDC741
s22 Readh Abd Al-Rahman Nofel al-Zubi from Teiba, Saida Massacre VDC645
s23 Nour Mohammad Qusaim al-Zubi from Mseifra VDC734
t27 Mohamed Hussayn al-Zu'bi Mohammad Husain Shihada al-Zubi 39 video #4, decay from Msaifra, Married with 5 children, degree in Sharia law, his body was handed over on 26-5-2011 - National Number خ243 - VDC15326
t28 no match? Nader Ahmad Sulaiman Zubi, 36 English Literature Teacher, from Mseifra His body was delivered on 3-6-2011 VDC15330
s24 Ahmad Yehea Al-Zaabe from Msaifra VDC617
52 (total s+t)

Hamza al-Khatib

Hamza Ali al-Khatib, (Arabic: حمزة علي الخطيب ) age 13 as reported (disputed), from Jizah, Deraa. As widely reported, he was arrested from the protest at Saida on 29 April, was detained by Air Force Intelligence, tortured and killed, and handed back to his family in this state on 24 May, with his penis cut off. His obvious torture in detention, not very well hidden, became a natural rallying point for continuing protests, sparking condemnation of the Syrian government, support for aid to opposition forces, etc.

VDC entry His morgue photos as run by Zaman al-Wasl show apparent bullet or similar wounds to the arms and torso, a bloody and blackened face, possibly more, but it's hard to tell. His card is numbered 23 in Eastern Arabic numbers. [4]

Age and Date of Death

Opposition sources universally agree Hamza was only 13 years old at the time he was killed. [4] Coroner Akram al-Shaar described him as "a plump young man in his twenties," as usually reported in English. [1] This is taken as conflicting badly with the usual 13. However, the Atlantic Wire's article by Uri Friedman was titled "On Syrian State TV Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb Is No 'Child Martyr'" But to its credit, the Wire noted a comment pointing out the original Arabic better translates as "in his second decade," so between 10 and 20, or vaguely just a teenager. (cited SANA report, dead link) Thus, by the end the leading point of the article was moot. [5] In fact, the subtitles on the video of his presentation say "second decade," and he specifies the "young man" lacked body hair, and so was probably in the younger half of that span. [6]

Visually, in the morgue photos, it's an ambiguous case. [4] By size, weight and stature, he appears years older than the circulated photo, likely 15-17 or even older. But by lack of body or facial hair, he seems prepubescent, quite possibly 13 or younger but large, or older with delayed puberty. "Second decade" seems like good shorthand.

The Wikipedia page currently gives a birthday on October 24, 1997, a point under challenge on the talk page there). The death date given seems incorrect - May 25, 2011 - the day after his family received the body. Beneath Zaman al-Wasl's posting of the morgue photos, there's a painted gravestone with readable dates (image link). Even this may not be trustworthy, citing the same death (or burial?) date of May 25. But that seems to be his name in green, and below it says he died 2011/5/25 and his birth date, or first date anyway is May 9, 1998. By this, he was only 12 when arrested, and might well have died before reaching 13, or been killed on his birthday or after, depending.

He's not blackening, nor bloated in the morgue photos - he was just that plump. And something (bruises, blood, other) left his face mostly black. Dark and bloated would suggest decay, maybe as seen in the video from May 24/25, after return. Official said the body shown was in decay, and that wasn't from any torture, which seems accurate. The videos are poor quality and needing review and comparison, but he seems to look much different in the photos. By the Syrian official story, the photos of him and Thamer would be taken the night of the 29th, after they were found in just that state. By the opposition story, Hamza's photos were taken very soon before May 24, maybe the night before, or whatever they would call his death date, after he was finally tortured to death. Most likely all the date meta-data on these photos was somehow lost (see below - #Numbers - Caesar photos).

Castration claims

Initial claims were that young Hamza, among other injuries, had his penis cut off, which clearly would not fit with the government narrative. The official investigation apparently disagreed - judge Salem Abbas said “Since I am the one who undertook the investigation and the medical check up, I came to know that al-Khateeb died while he was inside the military compound’s surrounding from several gunshots without any traces of torture on the body.” Coroner Akram al-Shaar said “There weren’t any traces of violence, resistance or torture or any kinds of bruises, fractures, joint displacements or cuts." [1] In the video of his presentation, he's clear there were no cuts on the body, but also emphasizes pre-death and post-death injuries, and includes decay as a type of the latter (a dubious classification). Signs of this that he lists includes swelling scrotum.[6] Post-death swelling/bloating and decay are often worst at the site of an injury.

However, every other source who claims to have seen the full photos or video says the claim is true - in publishing the photos, "respecting his dignity" with a blur, Lebanese daily Zaman al-Wasl stressed "the photos showed that Hamza’s penis was indeed cut off." [4] With the blur, it's hard to tell, but some injury there seems likely. Ben Taub would write for the New Yorker in 2016 how the photos prove the claim (having seen them, or having trusted another person's opinion, unclear), and claims there had been a medical exam that said the same; the official Syrian investigation "also found that a doctor who had reported that the boy’s penis had been cut off “had misjudged the situation in an earlier examination.”" [7]

Prior to the photos publication, Amnesty International was shown "confidential material" that convinced them as well the claim was true. [2] However this can only be imagery from after May 24, and may not prove what happened before that.

One post-death video may show a very swollen scrotum with no penis, or more likely, a separate object (small bag of ice?) over an area with no clear injury, but it likely wouldn't be very clear if it was this covered. [8]

In short, the claim seems credible, or hard to dismiss, and the official version reads as denying or at least denying or side-stepping it. This is taken as a sign of guilty conscience, but there are other possible reasons, depending on officials' thinking and especially on what actually happened.

Thamer al-Sharei

Thamer Mohammed al-Sharei, age 15 (Arabic: ثامر محمد الشرعي )

Amnesty's report relays a forensic pathologist's observations from the video “Wound below left knee, seems to be the result of an open tibial fracture. Obvious facial injuries: jaw - especially left side - huge laceration and probable fractures.” [2] Video and photos combined show apparent bullet exit wound with broken bone just below his left knee, similar but larger and blacker in his right hip - but no entrance wound seen for either. These could be sharp tool injuries, like a pick-axe. The same could explain how his left cheek was horrifically torn open, leaving a black hole into his mouth. He was apparently beaten as well, with swollen lips and missing teeth on the right side, and his left eye swollen shut. Further, his groin - glimpsed vaguely at 1:59 - appears blood-red, perhaps also hacked at – but supporting no known claims he was castrated, like Hamza. This boy died very horribly, with no signs of a fatal gunshot wound. In the morgue photos, he has the number 12, shown in various ways.

Alleged fellow prisoner Ibrahim Jamal al-Jahamani says he witnessed Thamer's torture and killing, which he says was sometime in May, and described it to an AP reporter on the Jordanian border, "his voice breaking with emotion". (via CBS News, Jahamani says the boy suffered a horrible beating and then died over two days in May, at a prison in Damascus run by Air Force Intelligence. It began after Jahamani...

...heard the interrogators demand that the 15-year-old proclaim strongman Bashar Assad as his “beloved” president. The youth, later identified as Tamer Mohammed al-Sharei, refused. Instead, he chanted an often-heard slogan from anti-regime street protests calling for “freedom and the love of God and our country.” Tamer’s refusal apparently was the final straw for the interrogators...
At one point, a doctor was brought in to revive him, al-Jahamani said. “He gave him an injection and they started beating him again,” concentrating on his feet and genitals, and the boy started bleeding from his ears, al-Jahamani said....

In this widely republished account, Jahamani says before they even started, Thamer already “bore a bullet wound on the left side of his chest.” However, in his June body video there are clear views of his whole left side, front to back, at 0:07 and 1:52 - with no bullet wound. Morgue photos aren't clear on that side, but show his right side is also apparently unmarked. Hamza Al-Khatib has a gunshot wound on each side of his chest, but Thamer on neither. It seems likely this alleged witness suffered a mix-up in his photo/video research.

Jahamani's record on other injuries is better but mixed. "Guards broke his right wrist, beating him with clubs on his hands, which were tied behind his back," he told AP, calling it torture. "They also beat him on the face, head, back, feet and genitals until he bled from the nose, mouth and ears and fell unconscious.” All those seem likely, but there was more - gun and/or sharp tool marks are seen at his knee, hip, and face, and possibly groin as noted, but he describes no guns or tools involved, just beating.

Detention Vs. Delay and Decay

The table above lists a total of 52 individuals reported or probably killed in this event and/or detention afterwards. Nine of these have videos showing the victims bodies in May-July, after they were handed back to their families. It's said with Hamza and probably the rest that they were held, tortured over time, and killed only at the end, before body return. The bodies do show horrible abuses, whether torture while alive or mutilation after death isn't clear. But what date(s) this abuse was done on is seriously in question.

In contrast, the official story was these bodies were found already dead following the clashes on April 29. Any torture/mutilation (which they deny with Hamza, and don't address with the rest) would probably also have happened before they found the bodies. It's not clear just why it took 3-9 weeks to get the bodies reunited with families in most cases, but officials cite a slow ID process. They would have the bodies refrigerated during the wait, slowing decay.

This external article collects the imagery from these videos (warning: graphic, icky) shown in order of time since 29 April. In 9 of 9 cases with video to consider, and tending to be worse in each one, the bodies show signs of serious decay. This is especially shown in green patches in the torso and near the site of injuries. This is clearly more consistent with the government's narrative, whatever other flaws that might have. The visual evidence suggests these people were never detained - they just had their bodies collected.

Victim Numbers / Caesar Photos

Thamer and Hamza have morgue photos now released showing they were numbered 12 (Thamer) and 23 (Hamza), first published apparently in March, 2015. [4] As the table above shows, several victims came back with body ID# cards still attached, stuck to the body (Hamza is one, Thamer is not, when seen). Numbers seen are: 4, maybe 10, 12, 22, 23, 27, 28.

This could mean they were simply unidentified bodies #12 and 23, etc. in the system at Deraa National Hospital. This would suggest at least 25 bodies were counted that one day, likely 28 or more, and all connected to the day's incident (this would suggest the numbers here are issued per-day or per-case).

The alternate version is these were their detainee numbers under Air Force Intelligence. Zaman al-Wasl even claimed in publishing them "the most important aspect of the photos taken by regime was that the two boys’ bodies were numbered, which indicate that regime from the beginning of the Syrian revolution, intended to go for a long operation of arresting and torturing and possible death under torture." [4]

Some sources imply these are part of the Caesar photos prison system (see Torture Photos from "Caesar"). They were apparently released by Caesar or the related SAFMCD as they published their general prisoner face-shots in mid-March, 2015. Zaman al-Wasl, which refers to that alleged system as “the Crime of the century”, said that from "55 thousand photos of 11 thousand prisoners died under torture, 18 photos of them were for Hamza and Thamer." [4] Ben Taub for the New Yorker also had these photos of presented to him as part of Caesar's collection, and confirming the alleged torture system. [7]

However, they don't appear on the SAFMCD site, they're lacking two of the three numbers attached in that system - military intelligence branch (it would be "j" as alleged for Air Force intelligence) - branch victim number - hospital processing/medical report/unidentified body number (the exact meaning is disputed). Most likely, it's the branch and branch victim numbers they lack. If these are among the large total (53,000 per Human Rights Watch), it's apparently in the 'other half' of non-prisoner photos that include killed soldiers and allies, victims of "attacks," of "assassination attempts," various crime scenes, etc. [9]

Furthermore, the alleged detainees photos were kept secret, it's said, as the bodies were disappeared into mass graves. In contrast, the bodies of Hamza and Thamer were handed back to their families, and Hamza had his morgue photos shown on national TV.

However, it seems exactly one other victim of this incident is included. As explained here at the Monitor blog, elderly Mahmoud Al-Zoubi appears as Air Force intelligence branch victim j-000 from the May, 2011 folder. It's unclear why this oldest victim is included but not the boys nor, apparently, anyone else. But since Al-Zoubi is included, he gets that #CaesarPhotos victim profile and consideration how his case, with problem outlined here, reflects on the whole system of "tortured detainees."