Initially, the United Nations was convinced that the Syrian government was behind the brutal Houla massacre. But then, some began to have doubts. SPIEGEL traveled to the town to interview survivors and witnesses -- and was able to reconstruct the horrifying slaughter.
Nothing is going to happen, Muawiya Sayyid, a retired police officer, reassured his family on the afternoon of May 25. They were afraid to leave the house, but Sayyid reminded his family that he had been a colonel and troops with regime connections had remained unharmed in previous raids.
It was a fatal miscalculation, as Colonel Sayyid was forced to realize during the last few minutes of his life. According to statements by his surviving wife and daughter, he was in his room on the second floor when he overheard the murderers in front of the house as they agreed bring out the women first and then kill everyone. He told his wife and children to run. "I'll try to stall them," he said. He succeeded, but paid for it with his life.
The Houla massacre at the end of May, which claimed the lives of 108 village residents, according to the United Nations, including 49 children and 34 women, most of them murdered with hatchets, knives and guns, shocked the world. UN observers were able to gain access to the site of the carnage, where they could see the bodies and independently confirm what had happened there. The Syrian ambassadors to the UN and 12 countries, including Germany, were expelled. On June 1, the UN Human Rights Council condemned the Syrian regime and its shabiha militias for the massacre, with Russia and China voting against the resolution. The government in Damascus, however, blamed the incident on "terrorists" and denounced what it called a "tsunami of lies" over the massacre.
But then views began to shift. As time passed, the UN began to question its original findings. On June 27, the Human Rights Council discussed a report prepared by its Syria commission, which concluded that there was insufficient evidence to determine who had committed the massacre.
On June 8 and 14, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily, published two reports based on the statements of anonymous eyewitnesses, who claimed that members of the armed opposition had committed the massacre and then blamed it on the regime. According to the reports, 700 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had come to Houla from various towns to kill families that had converted to the Alawite or Shiite faiths and had not joined the rebellion. At the beginning of June, Jürgen Todenhöfer, a member of German parliament for the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), pursued the matter and sharply criticized the rebels for what he called "massacre marketing."