In the depth of night over the weekend of 19-20 May 2012, the Free Syrian Army military council for the city of Damascus issued a victorious statement, which reads: "The Military Council of Damascus and its suburbs announces the execution of several officers and functionaries of the criminal regime in a special operation by one of the heroes of the al-Sahaba Brigade. The targets were Assef Shawkat, Mohammed al Sha’ar, Dawood al Rajiha, Hassan Turkmani, Hisham Al Ikhtiyar, Mohammed Saeed Bakheitan. The death of the majority has been verified by the Shami Hospital and we dare the system to prove on one of its TV channels that we are lying." (downloadable document at the bottom of the page, plus video clip of the press release reading below).
The victims were members of the Crisis Management Cell, who were allegedly poisoned during a meal at the end of their daily meeting. The mercury-based poison was supposedly introduced into the food by their cook.
As the news started to spread, it served as a signal to trigger of a major military operation. Considering they had decapitated the security services, FSA units stormed several official buildings. The fighting raged in the early morning near the presidential palace and especially in the districts of Mazzeh and Kafar Sousse. The DGSE agents "embedded" in the French media immediately rejoiced. On the Le Monde blog, Ignatius Leverrier (whose real name is Vladimir Glasman) argues that the operation was probably known in advance to President al-Assad, who allowed it to happen in order to get rid of his brother-in-law, General Shawkat . Even more pernicious, Georges Malbrunot affirms on the Le Figaro blog that Assef Shawkat survived and massacred the inhabitants of Houla in revenge .
Alas! As always, propaganda does not stand up to time.
In fact, the SLA officer was not the cook, but one of the guests that Westerners thought they had corrupted. The to-ing and fro-ing around hospital Shami lent credence to the idea that the operation had been successful. When the ASL assaulted the buildings, a special unit was waiting for them which seriously drove them back. Nearly 300 rebels, both Syrian and foreign mercenaries, were killed during the fighting in Damascus that night.
General Hassan Turkmani, head of the Crisis Management Cell, appeared on television the next morning to prove that he was still at his post.
The civilian victims of the Houla massacre are constituted by the family members of Abd Al-MutY Mashlab (Baathist MP and new Secretary of Parliament) and other residents who refused to support the SFA.
FSA press release, 20 May 2012.
(PDF - 119.2 kb)