Qalb Lawzah Massacre

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On June 11, news emerged of a massacre by Jabhat al-Nusra's forces against allegedly rebellious locals in the Islamist-administered village of Qalb Lawzah (alt. Loze, Lawzeh, etc.) The village is historically inhabited by people of the Druze faith, a sort of "Unitarian" religion. The incident happened on June 10. By most reports, at least 20-30 civilians were killed (with higher reports up to 50 and low ones down to 10 - see #Death Toll) after the al-Qaeda affiliate moved to put down an apparent small-scale insurrection against their rule.

Who fired first is disputed. The group was under command of a Tunisian jihadist JaN supporters describe as "a hardliner and an authoritarian" with prior complaints. (see Yalla Souriya) The occupiers' attempt to seize the home of a loyalist is reportedly what sparked it, but locals are reportedly under other pressures, like being forced to covert to Islam earlier in the year, and even being asked to do so by their community leaders abroad - a confusing detail in light of the apparent sectarian nature of the killings(see #Walid Jumblatt, Alleged Conversion Deals). Further, as Arutz Sheva reports:

"The Tunisian leader gathered his men and accused the Druze residents of the village of blasphemy and opened fire on them killing at least 20 people, among them elderly people and at least one child," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Location: Qalb Lawzah (Arabic: قلب لوزة‎ ) is a historically Druze (a sort-of "Unitarian" religious minority) village in Northern Idlib province (Wikipedia, Qalb Loze) Qalb Lawzah on Wikimapia - southeast of Harem at the Turkish border, 20 km south of Reyhanli. It's in a "Jabal Summaq" area, meaning one of the Harim Mountains (Wikipedia), apparently known fro producing Summaq (red berries used in Arabic cooking), and for having an isolated Druze community populating it.

Death Toll

Most sources have been reporting 20, 20-30, 30, at least 30, or dozens of locals were killed, in a fairly one-sided massacre. However the toll may be higher; YaLibnan reports June 12 "the actual number of Druze people that were massacred exceeds 40 according to reliable sources in Qalb Lawzeh. The sources identified 27 of the massacred people." The list of names they reproduced, alongside a smaller list provided by Aymann al-Tamimi, is here on the talk page. Between those listed on one and not the other, we have 34 named victims.

A tweet by Ahmad al-Issa on June 11 claimed "Death toll from the massacre in #Druze village, Qalb_Louzeh rises to 50: Murdered in cold blood by #Nusra Front."

And some reports put it considerably lower; Yalla Souriya published a detailed report of a more two-sided battle in which 3-7 JaN or allies were killed (unclear - 3 were "persons"), 4 implicitly armed Druze, and 6 presumably Druze/convert/unclear (local) civilians (or up to 9 including the "persons") - possibly 13 Druze killed, maybe just 10. A "Syrian correspondent source" is cited for these details, which differ greatly from the range of sources with a civilian death toll several times this high.

Jabhat al-Nusra may claim a death toll of 32 civilians, in their letter of the 13th (see below)

Condenmation

  • Syrian government (cabinet) Premier Wael al-Halaqi affirmed that this massacre is a new proof that there is no such thing as “moderate armed organizations” but all of them are terrorist takfiri gangs shedding Syrians’ blood and destroying the Syrian state’s capabilities.
  • “We refuse the oppression of any sect of the Syrian people,” said Ahmed Kara Ali, a spokesman for Ahrar al-Sham. “Those involved must be held accountable.” (Telegraph)
  • Lebanese Druze leader Sheikh Naim Hassan condemned the killings and said that efforts were being made to “contain this regrettable and painful incident.” (Morningstar Online)

JaN Story

An account of the incident attributed to a Nusra Front fighter and published on a Twitter account used by the group's supporters laid the blame with the villager who had refused to relinquish the house to someone described as "in need". It did not give a casualty toll.

Already on June 11, opposition website Yalla Souriya published an account at least sympathetic to JaN: #Syria, Idlib, the true story of the massacre in Qalb Loz between the Druzes and JAN (Arabic version linked) This cites a Syrian correspondent who seems confident and well-informed, and says the trouble started with the loyalist home seizure - "One local protested and attacked JAN who sent a person to clarify the situation. The Druze who protested killed the envoy and his friends shot several gunshots killing 3 persons," who may be some of the killed civilians. Reinforcements obviously were brought, and in the following clash, 3 JaN fighters, 4 fighting Druze, and 6 civilians were killed, and no one else. The Tunisian commander was a bad apple, was arrested by the Army of Conquest leadership. "It was decided that Nusra will pay all the damages because they are under her ruling, and the killing of the civilians was not deliberate and no responsible on both sides was declared." The author added this intriguing commentary:

Interesting that the event coincided with the attack of the Brigade 52 by the FSA who was advancing to Sweida region. The regime and the loyalist media exploited the event to ignite the sedition and rally the Druze community to their ranks, and SOHR (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights) was quick to give his version of the massacre, which was relayed by most news agencies and satellite channels.

And followed it with this tweet #SOHR is complicite of the regime sedditon strategy when reporting on event in Qalb Lawze in Idlib #Syria.

On June 13 Jabhat al-Nusra issued a sort of public apology for the incident - Arabic letter, picture copy here on Twitter - SOHR summary here - Arutz Sheva article

In an official statement published on Twitter, Nusra Front sought to allay fears of further attacks on minorities, saying that some of its members acted "in clear violation of the leadership's views," reports AFP. If they give a death toll in this, it's not evident from these reports.

The date given in the report, in Arabic numbers, translates to 6/10/2015, and the year by the Islamic calendar - 1436 AH - is also given but written right-to-left, unusual for numbers. The number 32 appears, possibly an overall death toll (surrounding words are harder to decipher).

Walid Jumblatt, Alleged Conversion Deals

Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, ostensibly a liberal socialist, and apparently widely revered and highly influential with fellow Druze, lives in Lebanon and has long opposed Syria's government, and supporting the rebellion against it. He has repeatedly called for Druze cooperation with al-Nusra in Syria, and now faces a political crisis. Note above the talk of a defensive army of Druze is strictly for the south, and mostly regarding the threat of ISIS, not JaN. As for the lesser numbered Druze of the north, they've been urged to simply meet al-Nusra's demands voluntarily - including conversion to Islam - and hope for the best. At least, by unverified but corroborating reports we could find easily:

Daily Star, March 2, 2015 reports on the Idlib druze plan, as agreed bt rebel representatives and Mr. Jumblatt, speaking for his Syrian brtheren.

BEIRUT: An agreement has reportedly been reached between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Nusra Front regarding Druze living in Syria’s Idlib.
According to local daily Al-Akhbar, the agreement calls for Idlib’s Druze to embrace Islam and destroy the tombs of their relatives. In return, the Nusra Front would stop imposing Sharia - Islamic law - on Idlib’s Druze.
The report said the deal was reached after negotiators for both sides met with a UAE-based mediator from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, identified as Abu Uday.

"Sophia" tweeted this allegation June 11, as the massacre news was breaking: "Just two days ago, Lebanese #Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, enemy of Assad, invited his Syrian co-religionists to embrace #Nusra." That would be the same group who may have just committed the Ishtabraq Massacre of other non-Sunni Syrians, Alawi, and as the Reuters reported noted:

In an interview with Al Jazeera news channel last month, the leader of the Nusra Front urged members of the Alawite sect, another minority, to change their beliefs and to renounce President Bashar al-Assad, a fellow Alawite, if they wanted to remain safe.

It's almost as if he made the same threat to the less-vilified Syrian Druze community, and just got Jumblatt to explain it to them for him.

An "Angry Leb" criticized Jumblatt's approach here, mentioning a Jumblatt interview in which he said: “I don’t classify the Nusra Front as a terrorist organisation, because in Nusra Front there are Syrian citizens who were forced to join it due to the Syrian regime terrorism”. To his coreligionists killed by terrorists under the command of a Tunisian this generous definition probably means very little.

Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front), Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria (if Jumblat forgot), killed on Wednesday around 40 druze in the village of Qalb Lawzeh in the Jabal al-Summaq region in Syria. Some reports say that a week ago the villagers converted to Sunni Islam to avoid the wrath of the terrorists, other reports say that the villagers were forced to convert.
... His call to the Druze to raise the minarets didn’t work.

Naharnet reports June 12 Jumblat Seeks to Contain 'Incitement' after Killing of Druze in Syria Tawhid movement leader Wiam Wahab stated that “The faithful Druze from all Lebanese regions are ready to fight,” and threatened al-Nusra members in Lebanon. Jumblatt responded with "an emergency meeting for his party's leadership to contain the repercussions" of the incident that was finally testing the wisdom of his approach, wherein he "called for calm to limit attempts to instigate against strife."

At the meeting, Jumblatt said the massacre was an "individual" incident, so far, and "any incitement "will endanger the Druze of Syria," adding that Assad's forces kill dozens of people every day in Syria." He reiterated "There will be no political solution for Syria with Assad," that liberation must continue. Naharnet adds “There is no escape from reconciliation with the majority of the Syrian people ... What happened was an isolated incident. I will deal with it politically through my local and regional contacts,” he added. (The Daily Star)

This report cites a local source for more info that ususal, but with an exact death toll of 23, all named, some photos even shared. This may well be low; there's a list of 27 names, and credible reports the final toll is over 40, or maybe 50 (see #Death Toll). The main point this report adds is details confirming that the villagers here and elsewhere in the area have been converted to JaN's accepted brand of Sunni Islam, and had their ancestors' shrines destroyed, etc. This happened quietly "at the beginning of this year," and "these impositions have not been cancelled and remain in force to this day." Tamimi cites a letter from the leadership of a nearby former-Druze town in March, saying in part:

“We the peoples of Jabal al-Summaq reject and condemn all who write about the situation of our land and they do not know the truth. The reality in which we live is that we are all well and no one attacks or oppresses us, and we are living in this land and our program/direction is the Book of God [Qur’an] and the Sunnah of His Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). And we confirm that we have the same rights as our Muslim brothers and what is upon them is upon us from the obligations in accordance with what Islamic law demands ... As for what has been mentioned in the media regarding the opening of our homes to our Muslim brothers, we have undertaken our human and Shari’a obligation, and we have offered aid to the poor."

It's an important and complicating distinction - technically this was not a sectarian massacre, as it was Sunni rulers killing Sunni subjects, albeit ones with a past of heresy some fighters might not be able to get over. The locals would be so new to the faith they'd have to ask JaN how to carry out the proper funeral rights for the slain family members. Also, the fact that the victims were technically Sunni gives some clue to the careful and apologetic response from JaN and other Islamists, something out of place in a sectarian massacre, like this has been widely taken as.

Human Rights Watch CEO Kenneth Roth tweeted To be alternative to Assad, Syrian rebels should never force conversion on minority Druze. He linked to a New York Times article by Anne Barnard that cites locals saying they had been pressed to convert, not necessarily with success. This also passes on another Jumblatt quote:

Syrian Druse, “before being Druse, are part of Syria, and they are Arabs,” he said. “Their natural environment is Sunni. Their only way is to reconcile with that environment, with the people of Dara’a, the first people who revolted against Assad.”

Barnard writes "Mr. Jumblatt said his position was unchanged" by the massacre of former Druze who already had "reconciled with that environment."

Meanwhile, some of Syria's Druze community declined any Jumblatt deal, and teamed up with the military of their own government instead. Accepted for who they are, they helped the Syrian Arab Army swiftly reclaim the Thala airbase in Sweida province and push rebels further back for the moment. Reuters. However, at least some Druze men rebelled, resigned, and attacked a Baath party office,a somewhat confusing report in the Syrian Observer. This acknowledges Druze joining the Army and NDF recently and that Druze fighters "assisted Syrian army units in thwarting a rebel attack on al-Thalaah air base." But then "young men from Syria's Druze community, who joined the army to fight rebels in south Syria, have resigned claiming the regime breached a promise to not involve them in fighting in the province of Suweida, activists said on Sunday. ... The young men claim the regime army wanted them to fight against moderate rebels in Daraa to regain Liwa 52, the largest army facility in southern Syria. Activists circulated footage of prominent Druze leader Sheikh Wahid al-Balous saying the Druze youth will not join the Syrian army, and that the main mission of the community is to protect their stronghold in Jabal al-Arab."

Druze who fight for Syria, Jumblatt might warn, or even "back" the current government, put themselves in harm's way with the opposition, Islamist or otherwise. Not only is this natural, he might be saying it's good and right. ibrahim Joudeh tweets "Walid Jumlatt says all pro-government Syrian Druze SHOULD be killed." Cited video clip, June 16, supports that; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRjuuevGPBw "those who back the Syrian regime ... should be killed. And I no longer give a damn." He speaks against a backdrop of battle axes.

Sources

Idlib Province: Reliable sources informed SOHR activists that the village of Qalb Loza in al- Sammaq Mountain are witnessing tension since yesterday afternoon on the backdrop of altercations erupted between a commander in Jabhat al- Nusra and his members on one side and the people of the village on the other, amid contradicting information about the reason of this dispute. The altercations developed into shooting in the village. Information reported that dozens of civilians killed in the village where the activists accused the commander and his members of opening fire and killing dozens of civilians.
SOHR documented the death of 20 civilians from Qalb al-Loza village which is inhabited by Druze in al-Lesmaq mount in Idlib countryside, came in the details that an argument took place between a Tunisian leader in Jabhat al-Nusra and civilians from the village after seizing a house belongs to a soldier in regime forces by Jabhat al-Nusra, what made Jabhat al-Nusra militant open fire and kill a person from the village, the crowed were able to pull the person’s gun and open fire on Jabhat al-Nusra what killed a militant in Jabhat al-Nusra which called for reinforcements to take over the village after that Jabhat al-Nusra opened heavy machine fun fire on the civilians leading to the death of 20 including a child at least and elderly.
An account of the incident attributed to a Nusra Front fighter and published on a Twitter account used by the group's supporters laid the blame with the villager who had refused to relinquish the house to someone described as "in need". It did not give a casualty toll.
Syria's state-run news agency SANA described it as a massacre.
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had made contact with Syrian opposition factions and "influential regional forces" that had yielded a "joint effort" to guarantee the safety of villages in the northwest that had "stood by the revolution", according to al-Anbaa online, a news publication published by Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party. "The problem" had been contained, it said.

Perhaps Jumblatt is unaware the problem reportedly began with a home seizure against locals who did not "stand by the revolution," and apparent relatives who resisted their forced eviction or - perhaps - their attempted murder. The victims seemingly didn't live long enough to provide their own side of the story like the perpetrators had a chance to do.

  • The Telegraph heard there was no resistance even, and was given a list of 23 names of the dead.
  • Dispatch.com The massacre came at the same time as an offensive in the south of Syria:
Meanwhile, in southern Syria, Western-backed rebels entered for the first time the predominantly Druze province of Sweida, ... Activists said the rebels entered the Thaala military air base outside the provincial capital, also named Sweida, capturing parts of it from government forces.
A Sweida resident said that the city was subjected to shelling on Thursday that killed one person and wounded six. It was not clear if the shells strayed from the fighting around the air base. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for his own safety.
  • First Post talk of aid or arms to the Druze, mainly in Sweida, in the south of Syria where they have their heartland and where Islamists are pushing to expand next. A Druze spiritual leader "issued a statement on Tuesday calling on everyone who could bear arms to join the government army, saying their service would be restricted to Sweida province which was threatened by "impending danger". The statement was posted on Facebook by pro-government activists." In contrast, "A U.S. official said the Druze of Israel had raised the idea of arming the Syrian Druze with Israel, the United States and with Jordan."
Local sources told SANA that tens of terrorists of both Takfiri terrorist organizations, affiliated to Al-Saud and Erdogan regimes, attacked the village, killing 30 people including five members of one family, looting and burning tens of houses.
The victims included three religious men and two women, the sources added, pointing out that terrorists intended to kill some locals by slaughtering after closing ways to the village, which is located at Summaq Mountain, to prevent any aid from reaching the locals who managed to kill five terrorists.

Photo and Video of Events There seem to be none so far, possibly none ever. Apparently citizen journalism in Syria stops flourishing once the Islamists take over.