The Syrian regime is now perpetrating crimes against humanity at a pace to match its crimes in Hama in 1982 and at the Tel Za’atar Palestinian camp in 1976. All of Syria is a burning hell. Savage aerial bombardment (such as that causing the apocalypse here in Kafranbel, which held such beautifully creative demonstrations) and continuous massacres have raised the average daily death toll to well above two hundred, most of them in Damascus and its suburbs. The other day 440 people were murdered in twenty four hours.
The worst hit area has been the working class suburb of Darayya. I visited people in Darayya some years ago, and once bought a bedroom set for a friend’s wedding in the town. I remember it as a lively, friendly, youthful place. Last year Darayya became a cultural centre of the revolution. Ghiath Matar and others developed wonderful methods of non-violent protest there. When security forces arrived to repress demonstrations, Darayya’s residents handed the soldiers flowers and glasses of water. But Matar was murdered, and Darayya has been repeatedly raided, its young men detained and tortured, its women and children shot and bombed. Nevertheless, for some months the regime was kept out of Darayya. The town ruled itself in a civilised manner, successfully keeping a lid on crime and sectarianism.
The recent pattern is already well established (remember the massacre at Houla), but this time has played out on a larger scale. The regime bombed Darayya for days, mainly from artillery stationed on the mountains overlooking Damascus. Once any armed resistance had retreated, soldiers and shabeeha militia moved in, with knives and guns. This stage reminds one of Sabra and Shatila. It seems there was a list of suspected activists and resistance sympathisers, but the field executions included old men, women and children. About three hundred bodies have been counted so far, found in the street or in basements or in family homes.
The next stage is to mock the victims. An al-Dunya (a regime propaganda channel) report on the massacre epitomises this. The actress/journalist (not a good actress, for she mistakes the scene; while waxing poetic and prettily outraged, she forgets to simulate fear and horror) shows the viewers what the ‘terrorists’ have done. She interviews a wounded woman. The wounded woman responds as if she’s facing interrogation, which of course she is. Terrified women in the back of a pick-up praise the regime army. The reporter is accompanied by the army that has just murdered the women’s neighbours. The reporter goes on to compound the trauma of a little girl who is lying terrified beside her dead mother. It is perhaps the most disgusting thing you’ll ever see.
Robin Yassin-Kassab is a Muslim Institute Fellow, the co-editor of Critical Muslim and the author of The Road From Damascus, a novel published by Hamish Hamilton and Penguin. He is also the co-editor and regular contributor to PULSE, recently listed by Le Monde Diplomatique as one of its five favourite websites.