Rebels carry out sectarian cleansing in eastern Syria

syria_hatla_620x350 A Sunni Muslim militant from Kuwait boasts of killing Shiites in the Syrian village of Hatla, and warns he and his men are about to find more Shiites in their homes and kill them, in a video posted to YouTube on June 11, 2013. / YouTube/CBS

Rebels carry out sectarian cleansing in eastern Syria

Hassan Hassan blog, 12 Jun 2013

A rebel armed group calling itself “As-Sadiq Al Ameen” has committed what appears to be a massacre against Shia civilians in Deir Ezzor.

According to a video that emerged on Tuesday, the group targetted the civilians because they are Shia. Residents say the group is still chasing other “Shia” who had escaped the carnage – the Syrian opposition needs to intervene, through Deir Ezzor representatives, to prevent more killing.<

UPDATE: Another video shows fighters from Jund Al Rahman rebel group were also involved, along with “several other groups”. Click here for a comprehensive playlist of the videos related to the events, by Brown Moses.The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 60 Shiites were killed in the attack – at least 10 rebels were killed.

The incident took place in the village of Hatla, near Deir Ezzor city. Hatla was the first village to covert to Shia Islam in the province. Deir Ezzor is predominately Sunni Arab areas – mostly tribal, few Kurdish families, no religious minorities. The village residents are mostly from the Baghara tribe, one of the main tribes in eastern Syrian but the village is disliked by surrounding areas because they converted to Shia Islam.There is another village near Hatla whose members also converted to Shia Islam in recent years, Al Hussainiya. Residents of the two villages claim they are descendants of the Prophet’s family, and members started to embrace Shia Islam in late 1990s. One of the prominent “callers” for conversion in Hatla is known as Hajj Yasin and Ali Al Musa Mulla Eid (who is a university graduate, said to be chased by rebel groups). Salafi web forums often discuss the spread of Shia Islam in Deir Ezzor, with one describing the trend as “painful”. Shia residents in these villages have also shown support for the Syrian regime.

In the video, one of the rebel fighters who murdered the civilians claimed that Kuwaiti Shia were behind the conversion of the village. He sent a message to Kuwaiti Sunni to exterminate all Shia in Kuwait otherwise “they are responsible in front of God” for failing to protect their religion. He also called for financial aid from Kuwait Sunnis to their brothers in the area.

The man behind the camera, who filmed the video of the massacre, said the rebel group raided “houses of Shia who are aligned with the Assad” regime. Sectarian talk included: this is the Shia, this is the Shia carcass, this is your end dogs.

Meanwhile, one of Kuwait’s most outspoken supporters of the Syrian rebels acknowledged the killing of the civilians because of their Shia affiliation. Sheilk Shafi Al Ajmi, who has been spewing sectarian venom since the early months of the Syrian uprising, spoke about the killing outside the Lebanese embassy in Kuwait.

“The reality is what [Hizbollah] will see not what it hears. We are not among those who say and do not do. Today, we took the village of Hatla and slaughtered the bad ones with knives as you slaughtered out wives and children in Qusayr, we slaughtered one of your symbols, Hussain, who lived in Hatla, today we slaughtered him and we slaughtered his son with him. This is today. As for tomorrow, we have a date with Nubl and Zahraa [villages in Aleppo] which Hizbollah has come to save, nay. The lions and herose are besieging them. I swear by God that Syria will be a burying ground for Hizbollah.”

The significant impact of individuals like Sheikh Shafi on the Syrian uprising has received little attention in world media. The National’s Gulf Correspondent Elizabeth Dickinson wrote a seminal report about this issue in February (Read her report about private donors in Kuwait here).

The role of such supporters in countries where sectarian tensions are high cannot be downplayed; it is safe to say that much of the sectarian rhetoric and crimes in Syria is the doing of these people, who funnel money expecting “results” such as the one in Hatla. State support, rather than private donors, is needed for the Syrian rebels to avoid such massacres. Keeping a tight reign on private donors, who are often driven by their own ideological agendas, is crucial for any future solution in Syria.

I discuss the role of private donors in an upcoming publication by European Council on Foreign Relations, in London. I have an essay about the Gulf and Syria.