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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Jabal al-Zawiya: One of Bashar Assad’s first large-scale massacres

Jabal al-Zawiya area; Credit: BBC

Jabal al-Zawiya (Al-Zawiya Mountain), a highland region 40 km southwest of Syria’s Idlib, was the scene of a horrific massacre committed on December 19 and 20, 2011, that took the lives of more than 270 unarmed people and wounded dozens. It was one of Bashar Assad’s first of many large-scale massacres in response to the uprising that began in March of that year.

By that time, the region had become (in spite of a strong presence of regime military and security forces) the center of the then 9-month-old uprising to which many regime army defectors had escaped in large numbers (their number was in the thousands by the end of 2011) after rejecting orders to kill their fellow citizens who were peacefully protesting against the rule of Assad.

Some reports talked about regime forces also using bombs and anti-aircraft guns in order to kill as many as possible

The massacre started on the 19th targeting some of those defectors who did not carry weapons in an area between the villages of Kunsafra and Kafr Oweid, about 50 km from the border with Turkey, killing more than 70 unarmed people. On the second day, Assad regime forces backed by tanks continued to hunt down those who managed to escape, killing approximately 200 more. Some reports talked about regime forces also using bombs and anti-aircraft guns in order to kill as many as possible.

According to the testimony of one of the local villagers, there were the sounds of explosions and shelling, that resulted in the deaths of many young residents.

Those arrested had their hands tied behind their backs, were forced to kneel down, and were summarily killed one at a time with a bullet shot to the head. It was a massacre perpetrated in cold blood

Survivors of the massacre said that as they were trying to reach Turkey, Assad troops hunted many of them one by one and fired on those trying to flee to nearby woods out of fear of being detained. Those arrested had their hands tied behind their backs, were forced to kneel down, and were summarily killed one at a time with a bullet shot to the head. It was a massacre perpetrated in cold blood.

Bodies of the dead were left in the streets without allowing the locals to bury them. It was impossible to recognize the identity of some of them as they had been deliberately burned or deformed, according to some activists who managed to flee to Turkey after the massacre.

Not one single person has been held accountable for the unspeakably heinous crime committed against the defenseless people in Jabal al-Zawiya 11 years ago

It is difficult to get verifiable information on what actually occurred as the regime had cut off all communication in that area at the time. Electricity and water were cut off for the villagers as well. The regime also prevented most of the neutral and independent media from covering what was taking place by barring them from entering the region, and in fact the whole country. This has been the case with every military or security operation against civilians all across the country.

Until now no one knows for sure exactly what happened on these two days of the massacre. The only thing that is certain is that not one single person has been held accountable for the unspeakably heinous crime committed against the defenseless people in Jabal al-Zawiya 11 years ago.

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