Syrian Military Officer Who Witnessed Houla Massacre Defects

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A senior official from the Syrian Air Force has defected and sided with opposition forces, and claims he witnessed the Houla massacre first hand. The Guardian spoke to Major Jihad Raslan, who was on leave in his house 300 metres away from the small village of Taldous, one of the first areas assaulted in the Houla masacre, when "several hundred" men he knew to be Shabiha members, pro-regime militia, entered on motorbikes and army trucks: 

"A lot of them were bald and many had beards," he said. "Many wore white sports shoes and army pants. They were shouting: 'Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad.' It was very obvious who they were.

"We used to be told that armed groups killed people and the Free Syria Army burned down houses," he said. "They lied to us. Now I saw what they did with my own eyes."

He said the killings in his area were over in around 15 minutes. However, the rampage in other parts of Houla continued until the early hours of Saturday, according to eye-witnesses and survivors.

Raslon told the Guardian those killed in his area were people he knew and had social ties with. Raslon said defections have increased since the incident in Houla, but the military is making it as difficult as possible. All holidays have been cancelled, he said, and he claimed to know of five defectors who were shot dead while trying to escape. Raslan said his normal posting was away from where most of the violence has taken place, but after Houla he couldn't go on. "I knew they had been lying, but I had not been exposed to the effects of it. This was the first time I had seen anything like this," he said.

Bashar al-Assad condemned the Houla massacre, and blamed foreign-supported terrorists for the crimes on Syrian state television Sunday morning. But another defected Syrian Lieutenant told the Guardian Shabiba often work in conjunction with the Syrian army, and sometimes take orders from Syrian intelligence officers. "The military give them weapons and cover, and escort them in tanks," he said. "But they sometimes work independently."

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