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Syria Analysis: Was There a "Massacre" in Aqrab on Tuesday?

Boy Injured in Aqrab on TuesdayOn Tuesday, the developing story was the reported massacre at Aqrab, northwest of Houla in the countryside of Hama Province. There were reports, notably the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that at 125 to 200 people. These were soon picked up by media outlets.

It was soon established that the town was hit by heavy airstrikes, but it was unclear how many people died as a result. There was also a rumour, put out as news by Al Jazeera English, that a car bomb may have been used.

Because the town has a large Alawite population, the immediate speculation was that the Syrian Government, led by the Alawite Bashar al-Assad was not responsible, despite the evidence of airstrikes amid reports of battles.

At the end of the day, eyewitness testimonies, posted by ourselves and a few other outlets, that seemed to line up behind a narrative of a mass killing by pro-regime shabiha who had rounded up townspeople. There were claimed videos of bomb damage to rooftops. There was footage of injuries, but few bodies.

But then the trail of news went cold. On Wednesday, no further information could be established to answer questions about responsibility and the number of victims. There were notable omissions: the opposition Local Coordination Committees, a prominent source for claims on casualties, never reported a mass killing from Aqrab. Meanwhile, a Syrian "military source", via State news agency SANA, claimed any "massacre occurred".

Here is what we are pursuing. The town was bombed, and the largely-Alawite population has split into pro- and anti-regime groups. There has been fighting.

Perhaps 6 to 10 people were killed by the shelling. There are further concerns that other residents, held hostage or cut off from escape, were slain.

There may have been a massacre in Aqrab. There may not have been. For now, we have rumours that were never sourced or qualified, assumptions that were made, and a story which --- on the basis of today's coverage --- could slip into being ignored.

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