Since the uprising began in Syria in mid-March, State outlets and opposition activists have presented very different versions of the truth. In recent weeks, however, the intensity of the violence --- and thus the gap between the two narratives --- has increased considerably.
In Hama, State news agency SANA and regime spokespeople say that the military is liberating the city from "armed groups", gangs who slaughter soldiers and innocent civilians. Elsewhere, those roving "terrorist groups" or thugs threaten the lives of police who have been deployed to keep the peace. The aggression is always by these criminals: in the northeastern city of Deir Ez Zor, featured in the news in the past week the regime has denied that tanks or soldiers are even present.
The activists tell a different story. In Hama, people claim that they are unarmed and their wounded lie in the streets while the military pins them down with gunfire. Elsewhere, the people claims that security forces (military, police, and armed plain-clothed thugs) are coordinating to suppress any protests, going as far as to fire on funeral processions. In Deir Ez Zor, residents report the occupation of tanks and soldiers who have shelled the city, blocked the roads, cut communication and utlities, and conducted mass arrests.
And so to the competing evidence....
The video at the top of this entry may be the most important and impressive of the week. It claims to be leaked footage, filmed by Syrian soldiers, of an all-out assault on the city of Deir Ez Zor. We cannot verify it, though it supports footage posted by activists of tanks and troops in the area in the last few days, claims which Syrian State television denies.
The source is highly reliable, a go-to for EA since March for video. We suspect that it is real, taken from Deir Ez Zor within the last few days. But why was it filmed? That's a question beyond the image: we haveve seen many videos taken by Syrian soldiers since March, perhaps because they are proud of their work, perhaps because they are ashamed of it, or perhaps a conflict of both emotions.
This is far from the only video that presents a level of violence matching the activists' claims. In the clip below, the videographer starts out by saying the name of the city, and in another video, an activist films tanks deployed near the center of the town. And yet another film shows the aftermath, the damage done to buildings in Deir Ez Zor. The accumulation of such specifically-labelled footage is hard to counter: if the activists were lying, at some point the recognition that these buildings were not actually in Deir Ez Zor would emerge.
Elsewhere, in Douma, an important suburb of Damascus, these protesters carry a casket in a funeral procession for one of their fallen. Gunshots ring out, as security shoots unarmed protesters.
In Idlib, a similar scene. None of these protesters seem armed, but they are cut down by gunfire. This is yet another claimed funeral march:
Both of these videos were reportedly taken on Sunday, and both match reports that we received, before and afterwards, from disparate activists. In this case: is the opposition capable of staging a conspiracy, falsely alleging two processions cut down on the same day?
The logic behind the above videos does not point to a lie. In the case of Syrian State TV, SANA, and the regime, it does. Last week, we debunked a claim, made by SANA, that protesters were dumping bodies of soldiers into a river near Hama. The video was clearly doctored, while the original video seemed to tell the opposite story, that the plain-clothed thugs in the video were regime agents dumping opponents into the river.
We have seen multiple examples of plain-clothed "thugs" or "armed gangs" participating in violence in Syria, almost always alongside police or military, and always against protesters. (Consider these two examples, in Homs and in Aleppo.)The only countering evidence that the Syrian regime or SANA has produced is doctored, or is fragmented (plain-clothed men fired at a target, but we never see the target).
We noted on Monday that some news agencies have occasionally been duped by propaganda promoted by individual "activists", but those observers tuned in, after months of experience, to the claims of the activists now know which individuals or groups produce credible information, and they know when to be extra-sceptical about reports. However, many of these claims are reliable, and the media who drop in on the Syria story need to pay attention to the journalists who are working hard to separate the "good" reports from the "bad".
Because in Syria --- to take a position --- one side is lying, one side is mostly truthful, and thousands of lives are in the balance of the two.