Syria crisis: Locals tell of Homs massacre
- 19 January 2013
- From the section Middle East
In every war, the battle to control the narrative can be as fierce as the conflict on the ground.
That's been the story of Syria, and a growing war which has seen all too many horrific massacres.
We've now seen evidence from the latest atrocity in the village of Haswiya on the edge of Homs.
Villagers confirmed earlier reports that emerged from activists that more than 100 people were killed this week in a small farming community of mainly Sunni residents.
What we saw ourselves confirmed it was another gruesome war crime.
Piecing together what happened is another story.
Hiding in cupboards?
In two family compounds we saw several charred bodies in gutted rooms.
Blackened corpses with bullet holes showed people had been both shot and burnt.
A plastic fuel bottle was still there. A kitchen with long blood smears on the floor suggested at least two bodies were dragged away.
Had people been hiding in the cupboards?
In one large compound, we went room to room in a small cluster of houses, trying to trace the trail of blood and bullet casings to establish the sequence of what happened on that terrible day.
In a kitchen splattered with blood, delicate blue patterned teacups still sat on shelves in neat rows.
Two bedrooms were turned upside down. On the washing line, clothes still were hanging to dry. Chickens pecked for food on the ground.
Who did this? It was hard to establish a full picture since we were accompanied by a posse of soldiers and minders through a village where there was still a pall of grief and shock.
Soldiers who escorted us to the edge of Haswiya insisted this was the work of the Islamist al-Nusra Front.
They said hundreds of men had entered the village from adjoining fields. It begs the question of why the atrocities, which villagers said took hours, weren't stopped by the military base which is just around the corner.
Others in the village confirmed the army's account. But one woman, who spoke to us off-camera, out of earshot of our minders, told us soldiers were there that day, and that some had apologised that "others acted without orders".
Her version tallies with activist claims that this was the work of the pro-government Allawite militia known as Shabbiha.
Both sides are already hurling accusations at each other across official and social media.
Was this another savage episode of sectarian blood letting?
Was it another case of Shabbiha militia running amok, out of control?
Was this about rivalries among an array of opposition fighters?
All that is completely clear is that it was barbaric.
Many in the village know the truth of a shocking day. They won't forget, and may never forgive.
None of the massacres will slip from painful memory.
And that is what makes Syria's future so very worrying.