To the surprise, I hope, of no one, Iran has confirmed that it has sent troops to aid Bashar al-Assad in his efforts to suppress the Syrian uprising.
“If the Islamic Republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of civilians would have been twice as bad,” General Ismail Qa’ani, deputy-commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, told Tehran’s ISNA news agency.
Iran, he added, “Had physically and non-physically stopped the rebels from killing many more among the Syrian people.”
Is there any point in even responding to this, other than with opened-mouth wonder?
This was a rare admission by an Iranian official that Tehran was truly aiding the Damascus regime.
The quote was later removed from ISNA’s website.
All around us the soldiers of course said that the massacre that happened here on friday was caused by the rebels, or the “terrorists”, as they put it.
We met one man, an engineer called Ahmed Masood, who showed us his house, which he said had been attacked by terrorists.
When questioned closely, he admitted he was not there when it happened. His house is also right next to a military base and in an area where there are no civilians.
The deputy head of the UN mission in Syria, Martin Griffiths, told me: “We managed to find one family. There was a woman, unfortunately dead, with her four dead children. We were able to remove the bodies.”
I asked him what conditions were like in that part of the town he replied: “We were near the centre of the town when a Syrian army armoured personnel carrier approached.
“It passed us and fired two rounds. That of course caused a firefight. It certainly slowed us up a little in our mission.”
That might be something of an understatement. Firing here certainly continued throughout the time that we were there. This is not a conducive or an easy environment to make sense of what happened here on Friday.
Nonetheless, the United nations mission here is trying. Mr Griffiths told me that he had a corroborated story from two different sources.
The first is the Free Syrian Army command in the nearby town of Rastan, who said that the massacre on Friday was caused by “Shabiha” – civilian militia.
And that is the story that they heard elsewhere. In the town of Houla they questioned people repeatedly and the story was always the same, that at approximately 12.30pm on Friday after prayers there was a sustained barrage lasting in the region of two hours from the Syrian army.
This was followed by concerted attacks on foot led by the Shabiha, and this is when the masacre occured. The killings, these sources say, happened some time in the period from 3pm on Friday to approximately 1-2am on Saturday.
Longtime Assad ass-licker Patrick Seale blames it all on outside support for the anti-Assad rebels. Yes. He really did.
At the UN Security Council, Russia and China can’t even bring themselves to sign onto a statement condemning the Syrian government “in the strongest possible terms.”
The reaction from the White House:
“These acts serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality,” a White House spokesman said.
An impressive deployment of adjectives. But perhaps a deployment of fighter jets is more in order now.
Meanwhile Syrians (such as these in the town of Binnish in Idlib province) keep trying to get the world’s attention.
Update: In a potentially significant development, Russia and China joined the rest of the UN Security Council in a statement condemning the Syrian government for its use of heavy weapons in Houla.