Surprise Video Changes Syria "Timeline"

Of all the myths obstructing the honest portrayal of events in Syria this past year, none has been more fiercely guarded by regime-change advocates than this one stark falsehood:

Myth – the Syrian regime has only been shooting unarmed, peaceful protestors until very recently when opposition groups finally decided to arm themselves in self-defense.

On the contrary, there is clear evidence that armed groups have targeted and killed security forces and civilians from within weeks of the first small protests in March 2011. An earlier investigative piece I wrote on the Syrian casualty lists identifies the shooting deaths of nine Syrian soldiers in Banyas on April 10, 2011 as one important timeline marker for premeditated opposition violence.

Ignoring this vital piece of information about the security landscape has helped shape a fundamentally flawed narrative of events in Syria. Furthermore, this false storyline has directly contributed to the escalation of the crisis by inciting rage against the “one-sided” violence of the regime, and emboldening opponents with a misplaced “righteousness” that kills legitimate debate on Syria.

But this narrative has been unraveling in the past few months. Photos and video footage of armed men with heavy weapons proudly declaring their stripes – some of them religious extremists advocating the killing of civilians based on sectarian differences – have been recently making the rounds.

Jihadist web chatter about armed groups in Syria, suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, and now Al Qaeda’s “call to battle” have forced western pundits - who know a red line when they see one – to grudgingly acknowledge there are two sides in Syria’s violent tug of war.

Quite suddenly, this has forced a shift in the discourse on Syria. Regime opponents have taken care, however, to ensure that the new narrative incorporates the existence of armed groups without challenging the core premise that “the regime massacres peaceful protestors.”

This effectively means that armed opposition can only be introduced into the Syrian crisis “timeline” at a date long after the outbreak of protests.

Consequently, it is only in early 2012 that references to armed militias have trickled into the media marketplace - and always in the context of a carefully scripted storyline which misleadingly claims – as in this February New York Times opinion piece: “the resistance” has only “now begun to arm itself and to exercise self-defense.”

Al Jazeera's Shaping of the Syrian Story

Ali Hashem’s resignation from Al Jazeera last month may not have raised an eyebrow in normal circumstances. But the Beirut-based correspondent was one of a number of Al Jazeera employees whose hacked-and-leaked emails displayed a growing dissatisfaction with their satellite network’s biased coverage of Syria.

His exit from the troubled media company is eclipsed, however, by the bombshell he is about to drop.

Hashem claims Al Jazeera refused to air footage of dozens of armed gunmen engaging with targets inside Syrian territory in May 2011. He and his crew, Hashem reports, also witnessed armed groups entering Syria three weeks earlier, in April 2011, but were only able to capture them on film in May. Some of the weapons they sighted included Kalashnikovs and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs).

But now Hashem reveals that he has in hand the actual censored video footage of opposition gunmen engaged in clashes in Syria last May and that it will be broadcast later this week.

During a brief preview of the footage on his iPad in a Beirut cafe, the veteran journalist explains: “I have both the footage which Al Jazeera refused to air and footage of the segment that was broadcast. On air, I am telling viewers that I am witnessing armed men clashing with the Syrian army, though what you read on Al Jazeera’s screen says something entirely different. This is in the Talkalakh area on the Syrian-Lebanese border, on the Syrian side. You can see the militants shooting in the video. And when you do a comparison of the two videos, you can see they are in the same place.”

Below is a still shot from Hashem’s exclusive footage showing gunmen operating inside Syria in May 2011:

“Ensa enno fee masallaheen”

The value of the newsworthy footage was not lost on Hashem and his crew, so he was surprised when Al Jazeera’s then-acting head of news told him via phone “ensa enno fee masallaheen” or “forget there are armed men.”

Hashem refused, and a heated defense of professional reporting ethics ensued until he was assured that he could speak freely on the air. He did - but Al Jazeera did not broadcast the accompanying footage of gunmen while Hashem was on air describing them. The network later insisted that it was a genuine “mistake.”

It will be interesting to see if Hashem’s footage actually changes the dominant view on Syria. There is little incentive for the mainstream media to self-correct a narrative that feeds into a lucrative formula: bad dictator, peaceful protestors, regime change, happy ending.

In fact, it is quite galling to see how complicit the various media outlets, human rights groups, governments and major NGOs continue to be in actively supporting a false version of events.

The killing of the nine Syrian soldiers in Banyas last April, for instance, was whitewashed by Al Jazeera, The Guardian, BBC and other news outlets who quote “activists” saying the nine were executed by fellow soldiers for refusing to fire on civilians. But YouTube searches for some of the dead soldiers – Lieutenant Colonel Yasar Qash’ur and Colonel Waeb Issa - shows actively pro-regime funerals, and not the kind of memorial services reserved for opposition sympathizers.

Human rights groups have been even more shameless in underplaying violence by armed opposition groups. Amnesty International’s Syria Researcher Neil Sammonds, on a recent BBC radio interview, famously invokes a “black eye” as one example of armed opposition abuses – as though he genuinely could not recall any significant reports of violence associated with these gunmen. It is a pity for him then that I have in hand the lengthy correspondence between Sammonds and a Syrian activist that details opposition killings, torture and violence – the activist imploring him over and over again to investigate these crimes and highlight their prevalence inside Syria.

An unexpected press release by Human Rights Watch on March 20 does exactly that. It is the first rights group to highlight opposition violence to this extent, but predictably does so within the old timeline narrative, placing armed groups into the Syrian storyline well after protests kicked off in March 2011. The HRW briefing specifies:

“The protest movement in Syria was overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011. Since then, an increasing number of media and other reports have said that a growing number of military defectors and local residents have decided to resort to arms, saying they are defending themselves against security forces’ raids or attacking checkpoints and security facilities in their cities.”

I had a chat with HRW researcher Ole Solvag about the discrepancy in these conflicting timelines – and he openly admits: “The key is in the word 'overwhelmingly.' We don't mean to say that there were no violence against government forces before this. What we mean is that anti-government violence became more organized and frequent after this.”

In fact Solvag concedes that there isn’t much that HRW can conclusively state about opposition violence in the early stages of the protest movement. “We have documented that there has been violence used against government forces before September….and against captured soldiers and civilians.” Solvag cautions that this “does not justify the government opening fire on protestors,” and then surprises me with the admission, “even if there were sometimes weapons in the crowds and some demonstrators opened fire against government forces.”

Here’s why I think Ali Hashem’s video footage needs an airing. It is time for a wholesale reevaluation of the facts in the Syrian crisis – beginning on day one, from the ground up, without any of the old assumptions that inhibit investigation outside of the bad-guy-good-guy theme. Maybe there aren't any good guys in Syria? Or maybe the crisis in Syria is less about Syrians than it is about the geopolitical aspirations of others? We will only know this more decisively if we scroll back to Hashem's April 2011 timeline to find out who hijacked the peaceful protests in Syria. Was it the regime - or the regime-changers? Unless we trace this back to the beginning, any step forward will be proceeding deaf, dumb and blind in Syria.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.

Note: This article on Syria has been censored by AOL-Huffington Post

Comments

What is more strange is the incessant focus on the so called "violence of the opposition" by media outlets close to the Syrian regime / Hizbullah / Iran like Al Akhbar since March 2011.

Why is there a complete blackout from the same media outlets on the ongoing campaign of mass slaughter of the regime against the Syrian people?
That is by far a more important and alarming question than any so called Al Jazeera / Al Arabiya fake reporting.

What is more funny is how dare Al Akhbar criticize a media outlet like BBC and its coverage of the Syrian events ..... Do they think they are up to the amazing level of reporting / journalism and objectivity of BBC? BBC reports are amazingly balanced. Al Akhbar can learn journalism from BBC.

Al Akhbar is nothing but a partisan media outlet which has shown its sectarian ugly face since the start of the Syrian events .... Al Akhbar was all for the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni and Lybia uprises ... when Syrian events erupted ... the tone suddenly and completely changed for sectarian reasons .... and they dare criticise BBC?!?!?!?

Thought provoking,balanced, and to the point. Superb as always Sharmine

Why doesn't Sharmine talk about Hezbollah's Iraqi allies like Chalabi who were using those fake WMD's and Saddam's support for Palestinian "terrorism" to incite the Americans to war and you will never hear the hypocrites from Hezbollah or their cheerleaders talk about this.

Because of sectarian reasons.

Hezbollah was one of the few parties in the Arab world that was opposed to the war and Chalabi was not their ally.

Hezbollah's opposition to the Iraq War are empty words with no substance and it was totally silent on the treachery of it's allies like Hizb ad-Da'wa and the SCIRI, and yes Chalabi is an ally of Hezbollah, who lavishly welcomed him in Beirut last year.

So you mean to say your regime is fighting militants and has no problem with peaceful demonstrators? Absolutely no problem? Why didn’t you take the ultimate test yourself during your Damascus trip (where you told us all was perfect and denounced media hype)? Why did you not stand in a public square and shout “Freedom” three times? Why don’t you try it today? You wouldn’t be writing those articles if you did it (not that you will change your mind but you will have departed this world). Oh wait, you would have been detained for just a couple of days and then released, given the Iranian connection.

Sharmine brings balance and objectivity to an issue where it is seldom seen in the biased western press and their lapdogs, such as Al Jazero. Distortion of the truth are a staple of the imperialists that wish to impose their will on the region. Kudos to Sharmine for raising questions that few are bold enough to ask, and revealing facts that others would rather sweep under the rug.

Great article, Sharmine. Unfortunately, you are going to be accused as a pro-regime supporter. "Revolutionaries" are not going to acknowledge that Al-Jazeerah has been biased since day 1; that the so-called "protests" were not that 'peaceful'; that the "uprisers" did commit atrocities too; that Islam has been hijacked as usual to use it against regime followers; that there is still a pro-Assad majority in Syria; that most of the Syrians are afraid of the unknown and that no one wants Islamists or Moslem Brotherhood in Syria!

"That the protests were not that peaceful"

Yep, official Assad propagandist right here.

So enlightening piece of writing, thank you Sharmine Narwani!

Absolutely perfect exposé.

I got it- Syrian soldiers are monsters and should be murdered by FSA (on Saudi payroll, now quite open one). But if it so, why FSA needs lies about the soldiers being murdered not by FSA?

GCC bankrolled "opposition" was not accused of eating children, as far as I know, even though they did accused Assad of raping children. On the other hand, FSA does use children soldiers, and it was said by UN, among others.

So, next time defenders of the brave revolutionaries payed by GCC money should try harder and invent something better.

If there are armed people in demo, it is not so "peaceful" one, all spin notwithstanding.

Lidia, you support the allies of Hezbollah and Iran who came to power on American tanks

A self-proclamed sectarian Abu Umar has nothing better than mention Hezbollah's sectarian support for for Shia in Iraq, some of them (not all) being lackeys of USA. Problem is, I do NOT support Hezbolla sectarianism, I support their anti-Zionism. The second problem is the Hezbollah is much LESS guilty of both sectariainsm and support for USA lackeys than Abu Umar's GCC. Actually, GCC is nothing but sectarian and USA lackeys, does NOTHING against Zionism and even helps it, and still secarian Abu Umar has nothing to say against it.

To be non-sectarian (or simply Atheist) means to be free to speak out against ALL sectarianism and all lackeys of NATO/GCC, while to be sectarian means to praize the worst criminals and traitors, providing they are from "right" sect. No wonder I am glad to be an Atheist.

The difference is that thousands of Sunni Islamists condemned the treachery of the "Sunni" collaborators with the West, while Hezbollah is totally silent on the treachery of the Shi'ites who rode American tanks into power, so don't tell me that Hezbollah is less guilty of sectarianism and the Saudi government has been condemned for its treachery by many of the clerics there, something which you have no clue about.

That was Lidia.

Yes, it was me on another PC.

Sharmine,

Great effort and great work indeed! Thank you!!

I honestly, have no doubt in my mind that peaceful protesters were deliberately used as a political cover for the violent acts committed by opposition armed militants that aimed to provoke a military retaliation by the Syrian military forces that was meant to draw strong International condemnation of a "brutal dictator killing unnamed civilians"!!

You rightly pointed out it took many months before the Western mainstream media admitted the existence of armed militants who have been fighting the government!! However, the early militarisation of the opposition was only acknowledged as part of a “massive” defection movement that led to the establishment of “Free Syrian Army” with the aim of giving legitimacy to the attacks and the killings of army/ security personnel in cold blood.

There was also the myth of the self defence and the "protection" of civilians when it is evident that the “FSA” didn’t spare civilians from their killings (pro regime supporters) and rather took civilians as human shields on many occasions (in Homs and al Zaweyeh Mountain)!!

keep up the good work Sharmine. i never miss your articles.

Seeing how much exclusive stuff Sharmine can offer in every article, I believe Hadeel and Scheherazade have already received her bio (Nir was certainly a latecomer).

Looking forward to some upper-case "NOT" and GCC/NATO/ZIONISTS Lidia stuff.

anon the NATO leftist sure does not like be reminded of NATO/GCC role in Syria - and because the anon has nothing to refute it, anon is turning to petty attack to my style. My style could be bad, but NATO/GCC is real and is murdering Syrians while the anon wholly agrees with this "humanitarian" murder.

AJ's 'exclusive" lies are unmasked and not just by Sharmine, and it is a fact.

Why did you drop "ZIONISTS" from your refrain?

This is a very deceptive way of covering up for the regime. It's apparent Narwani isn't offering an "alternative" perspective so much as she's trying to absolve the syrian regime of its repressive measures

Its foolhardy to talk about "repressive measures" when there is an armed insurgency against the State. I need not remind you Anonymous, that terrorism can only be defeated by such measures.

As for the peaceful, un-armed protesters' rights, it is quite apparent that the armed opposition, i.e. the counter-revolution, have trampled all over them. They simply receded, to hopefully re-surface at the ballot box. Even the chance to get to a ballot box may prove elusive now that the NATO/GCC have renewed their vows to (re)arm the opposition.

The regime seems to be adamant to continue with reforms; conversely, the opposition and its benefactors are adamant to abort them by not accepting dialogue. I suspect the regime is giddy to welcome such state of affairs, as it knows that such position on part of the NATO/GCC/Ikhwan would allow the Syrian State armed forces to mop up any possibility of political Islam to take over.

Its foolhardy to talk about "repressive measures" when there is an armed insurgency against the State. I need not remind you Anonymous, that terrorism can only be defeated by such measures.

There was no armed insurgency in the beginning and the Asadi regime is the last person to talk about foreign intervention, they certainly had no problem when they collaborated with the Americans in Gulf War I, or when they were serving the French colonialists.

I find it amusing that anything said about the opposition and its crimes seems to be a way of "covering up for the regime"!!! I'd like to know why is “covering up for the opposition” seems to be so acceptable when HRW has denounced the HR violations committed by the opposition armed groups?? How can you deny CRIMES against humanity that have long become the norm for those who call themselves "FSA", when it's a common knowledge in Syria??

For months, Western mainstream media reports spoke about the "one sided violence" in Syria which caused by "an oppressive regime killing its unarmed peaceful protesters"!!! Now, we know that this violence was NOT one sided and the regime is engaged in military operations against ARMED & VIOLENT! The truth is out’ those “freedom fighters” know nothing about freedom or democracy.. Just like in Libya they’re being used to destabilise the country and provide a pretext for a NATO action!!

Its covering up for the regime because it's giving assads army a pretext or justification to do whatever they want, based on the fact there may have been "armed gangs" all along. That's dangerous rhetoric. It aims to marginalize the demands of the people who did not parake in such actions.

So, are you suggesting the truth should continue to be concealed until it is a "convenient time" and NATO has invaded Syria and appointed a puppet Government to serve the West/ Israeli interests??

Those who only went on peaceful protests have been used as a political cover for the armed militants! They cannot keep burying their heads in the sand and pretending that SNC/ FSA/ NATO/ GCC are working on achieving their dreams in freedom and democracy!!! Ignorance is NOT an excuse for providing a pretext for Syria to be turned into ruins!!

It's a common knowledge in Syria that armed militants have been in operation since the start of all this! To claim otherwise IS an attempt to cover up the truth and cover up for the crimes committed by the opposition- as well as to cover up for NATO/ GCC plans against Syria_Iran coalition!!

You're trying to monopolize the "truth" as your perception of events in Syria. What Narwani was doing is revealing that there has been an armed uprising since early in 2011 (which I'm not disputing), but she also injected her clear pro-Assad bias with the way she framed events, almost as if she gave a justification for the Assad army's brutality.

And you seem to be even more blatantly propagandist with statements like this: "Those who only went on peaceful protests have been used as a political cover for the armed militants". I didn't need to read anymore of that drivel after that first sentence. It's pretty clear how much that language parrots what's on Dunya TV

Pro-Baathists are taking advantage of NATO/GCC interference in Syria to paint ANY sort of anti-regime criticism as a foreign conspiracy. Pro-Baathists are hideously unimaginative in their defense of the regime. It's the same thing people in Ben Ali and Mubarak's camp used to say until they got kicked out.

It seems that anon the NATO leftist still could not face the facts and prefers to attack the messanger, Of course, the truth is a truth, no matter who tells it, and anon does not have anything to give but lime jokes, while GCC openly has FSA on its payroll and NATO is prepearing to tirn Syria into anohter "liberated" ruin.

Lidia before you go on your typical ad homenim tirade, understand that it's spelled "lame" not "lime". I is not even close to A on the keyboard. Smh

Lidia has morphed into Hiba.

really? so what would be an alternative perspective in your case? one that echos aljazeera and the western news media?

Why does Hezbollah make takhween of the Syrian opposition, but not it's allies who came to power on American tanks?

**Narwani

Never said that. But when you someone like Sharwani clearly trying to excuse the killing of syrian forces, there's an agenda behind that. Both sides have an agenda, that is obvious

You have an agenda when you conceal the truth, when you report the truth and advocate peaceful solutions for the Syrian crisis, this would be called embracing Humanity, rather than having "an agenda"!

I don't think you would be attacking Sharmine if you belonged to the Syrian majority who are desperate for peace and security to return to their country...

To be fair, I remember how As'ad himself was ridiculing Syria's government claims about "armed gangs" in the beginning. Even As'ad, whom NATO/GCC "revolutionaries" accuse in being pro-Assad! But, of course, As'ad corrected himself soon enough, unlike HRW and other imperialist tools.

The same story was played in Libya, of course.

Two-thumbs up !!
Thank you for your article

I don't think anyone will be particularly suprised to learn that armed clashes have been going on in some form or another since first days of revolution, what matters is the scale. Though the footage should have been aired, I can not help but feel that the Assad Akhbar newspaper is pushing things too far - you're justifying a wholesale onslaught against numerous civilians simply because someone has sighted armed men somewhere.

You're making the same mistake as the other media outlets, just in reverse order - if these people are armed/unarmed, clearly this must be the case everywhere!

Is mrs. Sharmine going to deny that the uprising has been overwhelmingly peaceful within the first half a year or so? Will she next deny the systematic torture of prisoners of war and political prisoners in makeshift prisons within Syria next? Is she going to deny the existence of the Shabiha as a paramilitary force loyal to the Baath party? The torture and murder of innocents?

Of course. As you can see all her efforts are dedicated to denial, in the spirit of the "MA FI SHI / KHALSET / MOUAMARA" chorus. How frustrated she must be that only a minority take her "scoops" and exclusive stuff seriously.

Anonymous, since there have been many fabricated stories told by the opposition and reported by mainstream media, I say it's only fair we hear the other version of what's taking place in Syria. The article above has nothing to do with the spirit of "MA FI SHI", perhaps you need to go back and read it again.

The majority in Syria are frustrated by the complete misinformation and fabrication when it comes to reporting on the Syrian crisis. It's about time the truth is exposed!! Also, let's not forget that it was a "minority" who didn't believe that Saddam Hussain had WMDs, so please let's not assume that things are true because news reporters/ politicians say so….

Michal, you're right!! It's about the scale of the violence!! A; Jazeera report mentioned by Sharmine is not the ONLY sighting reported about armed militants and NOT the only evidence out there about the opposition armed groups and their criminal acts against civilians and the Syrian military forces. Here is a report on alJazeera English that spoke about ARMS SMUGGLE inside Syria since August 2011, the weapons were not smuggled to Syria to be used as decoration and the SCALE of it cannot be underestimated. The article says:

“According to local dealers, Syrians have been crossing the borders into neighbouring Lebanon to purchase weapons since late January, when the country erupted with pro-democracy protests which were subject to bloody government crackdown.”

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/05/201151410154606644.html

Here is another report about arms sale of black market weapons in Lebanon being fuelled by demand from Syria

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Politics/2011/May-09/Black-market-arms-...

The question that Sharmine Narwani has rightly asked; why was the fact of armed militants operating inside Syria as early as May 2011 concealed by alJazeera Arabic news team? And why did the Arab/ Western mainstream media follow the same policy and portray the situation in Syria as a simple case of an “oppressive regime killing its own people” when it’s clearly NOT the case!!!
As for your second point; based on this FALSE description of the events in Syria, the opposition has made many fabricated statements against the regime in order to affirm their claims of “one sided violence committed by a brutal regime” so that they provide a pretext for a NATO military action in Syria (Libya style) through which the opposition can seize power!!!

wow, now that's a game changer, so Bashar can finally breathe easy, for the baby-eating jihadist opposition might have killed 9 of his peaceful sodiers, who were hellbent on preventing any loss of live amongs the civilian population, all the way back in April!!! a real 'bombshell'

The mocking tone of your comment reveals the stark truth of the situation.It is really that simple, for the apologists to go that far in defending a clear and obvious massacre against a hopeless civilian population, can only incite mockery and disbelief.

LOL that was piercing.

I'm astonished that you find the acts of Jihadists all too exaggerated. The family of this poor man who was hanged by these fanatics appearing in this video may disagree with you!!...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=W0fj_jLRkjM

Also, Jihadists are responsible for the terror attacks in Damascus and Aleppo!! They're not as "innocent" as you're trying to suggest!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gH0Xln9I8Ik

Lidia will throw some big NOT your way.

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