Zara Massacre, May 12, 2016

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Zara(Arabic: الزارا ) is a small, Alawi-majority (Alawite) village of about 800 inhabitants in southern Hama province, on the shore of lake Rastan (Here on Wikimapia). It was attacked by Islamist rebels of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham, and allies, reportedly in violation of a cease-fire agreement, early on May 12, 2016. Reports from both sides confirm many citizens were executed. Around 100 others, including mainly women and children, were missing, most apparently taken prisoner, shipped across the lake towards rebel-held Rastan.

Sources

  • Aji and Issa, Associated Press, via ABC News, May 12, 2016, 6:47 AM ET: Syria's Al-Qaida Branch Seizes Central Alawite Village. Zaara is seized by al-Nusra front, Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Rahman, and allies. State media reports civilians executed, and others abducted, besides looting and destruction - From the UK, the SOHR "said families disappeared from Zaara after the militants overran the village."
  • Al-Khabar telesites reports (between a provided translation of one story (on their Facebook page) and this other Facebook post): the village is small; population about 800. Rebels launched an "encirclement attack" on Harbenafsa village while some other terrorists used boats to cross al-Rastan lake. This was around 4:00 AM. One of the survivors told Al-Khabar.tv:
"We woke up to the sound of violent clashes between the Syrian army soldiers and some terrorists who entered the village suddenly, although there was a truce signed in the area recently, so no one was expecting any violation or attack on the village. We had no time to think, we had to evacuate as many civilians possible from the village which has almost one thousand person , most of them are kids, women and elders. Nearly six hundred person were able to flee the village and seek refuge in nearby villages. Civilians were also targeted while fleeing.

Dr. Salim Khalouf, a hospital director in the area, said they received 11 wounded there. Some people who were able to escape the village talked to Al-Khabar.tv and said that the terrorists took a lot of people hostages including kids, women and elders, and they were moved via boats to rebel-held Ar-Rastan. One survivor said:

We heard about cases of people executed immediately by the terrorists, where some soldiers and boys from the village were killed and their bodies were thrown into the lake. There is no definite death toll due to the total absence of communication with the people who remained in the village or who were taken hostage."
  • Nimr Tiger on Twitter: "Rebel" gang #jaish_fateh say they arrested the mayor & others in Al Zarah and 'executed them immediately' #Syria
  • Other sources, like the mayor, claim he wasn't killed. ABNA:
Mayor of the village Ahmad al-Qasem said that the armed terrorist groups infiltrated into the town at dawn while its people were sleeping, raided homes and killed children, women and elderly in a brutal manner, adding that terrorists killed his mother and his aunt, kidnapped his uncle and killed his sons.
He pointed out that the terrorists were using PKC machine guns, laser sniper rifles and RPG shells which they fired at houses before they broke into them and killed families.
“Civilians were not targeted. On the contrary factions made great effort to spare civilians and deal with prisoners humanely,” said an Ahrar al-Sham spokesman in a statement, cited by Reuters. However, residents of the village who spoke with RT Arabic painted a different picture of events, describing the raid on the settlement as a war crime. “They killed elderly people, took children and women as captives. We want to find out what happened to them afterwards. We know nothing about them,” Abdou Khalifa, a villager, who himself sustained wounds, told the channel.


Background:

  • Nimr Tiger on Twitter: "SAA withdrew from Jarjisah in a deal with jihadists; 2days later jihadists break deal & seize Zarah/Abduct civilians" (includes area map)
  • Alaa Ebrahim "Activists:rebels attack Zarah village north of #Homs,took several families hostages&r moving them2rebel held Rastan" (similar map)
  • Al-Khabar.tv report (FB) notes the truce "encompass the area between Horbenafso village and Daer Alfaradees till Alzarah," and "included a halt to military operations and allowing aid to enter the north rural Homs via international organizations."

Images:

  • Mawali Moshen - Graphic photo rebels stepping over gunned-down women in the "liberated" town
  • Hanan Shamoun: "Seems they were asleep. I have a strong feeling that poison gas was used against them. #AlZara massacre #Syria" (dubious notion, but photos of men killed in their beds)

Reactions

  • Syria: Pres TV reports The Syrian prime minister, Wael al-Halqi, "has sharply condemned the “heinous” massacre of civilians by Takfiri terrorists in a town in the west-central province of Hama, urging global support for Damascus’ fight against terror."
  • France: Sputnik: "Gerard Bapt, a member of the French Socialist Party and president of the France-Syria Friendship Group in the National Assembly, told Sputnik he condemns the recent terrorist attack against the Syrian village of Al-Zara." No official condemnation from France or allied nations.
  • United States: RT reports: "The US State Department admitted that the incidents during the capture of Zara were “unacceptable and incomprehensible” but refused to pin the blame on Ahrar al-Sham or clearly condemn the group’s cooperation with Al-Nusra." (see also: State Department daily briefing, May 13, 2016)
Number two, Ashar al-Islam [sic] is not, as you pointed out, not a designated foreign terrorist organization and therefore is a party to the cessation. And our expectation of them is the same expectation we have for everybody else who is a party to the cessation, that they will observe it, that they will abide by it. So we’re going to look into this and we’re going to see what we know about it. And based on the facts, then we’ll deal with it. But we expect all parties to the cessation to abide by it and we have repeatedly said that. That’s why we’re got the task force stood up. That’s why we’ve plussed up the resources. That’s why we’ve intensified the effort to be able to better monitor the violence in Syria. But this is – obviously, these are very troubling, disturbing reports that we’re taking very, very seriously.
  • Russia: RIA (report and photos), 16.05.2016, blames 'Al-Nusra and allied gangs/militants (бандформирования-Russ.)', and continues that 'al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam posted photos on social media, and only on that basis the number of killed children, elderly, and women is over 50'. Some photos, video is in Rusvesna report, quoting RIA.