Millions of Syrians are using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype to disseminate and discuss the conflict. Each week our Mohammed Sergie monitors the online conversation in English and Arabic, pulling out the highlights in a feature called the Social Media Buzz.
As the death toll among humans continues to mount it’s easy to forget about the violence inflicted on Syria’s animals. Cats and dogs have suffered as targets for snipers, donkeys have been mowed down by automatic rifles, and now videos going viral show rabbits gassed to death — victims of chemical weapons tests.
The context for this affront to the living: reports that the Assad regime has loaded chemical weapons onto warheads, amid concerns the regime could use them if its hold on power grows desperate (allegations that Syria’s government has repeatedly denied). That headline furor gave rise to a previously unknown rebel group, calling itself the “Wind Isber Chemical Inscription.” The group made its online debut with a demonstration of its chemical weapons capabilities, claiming it had enough stock to exterminate Syria’s Alawites. Such harsh sectarian rhetoric plays into many people’s worst fears.
The video below is purportedly from the group (and warning, rabbits die), disseminated by pro-Assad Facebook pages. It shows Islamic chants that are common on jihadi communiques and is titled “Look who owns chemical weapons in Syria.” These alleged rebels spend a couple of minutes showing their stock of Tekkim agricultural chemicals, a Turkish brand, and then mix a concoction and gratuitously kill the rabbits.
Activists pointed to many discrepancies in the video, from the truncated verse of the Quran on the poster (altering the words of Allah is forbidden) to questioning the cause of death of the rabbits. The conversational consensus is that the video was either faked by the regime or was the work of a very small, overly-enthusiastic group within the opposition.
As fears of real chemical weapons dominated the news this week, one video that circulated among Syrian users on Twitter was a US government test of the nerve agent VX (warning, more dead rabbits). It served as an example of the chemical’s lethality, amid estimates that the regime has “tons and tons” of agent within its cache. The video was flagged by Racan Alhoch, a Syrian-American activist and co-owner of the irreverent revolutionary blog Akh Ya Souria.
Syria’s foreign ministry warned that “terrorists” (the government labels most of its opponents as terrorists) could launch chemical attacks on Syrian soil, then deplored the international community for failing to act on this threat. The largest pro-Assad Facebook page carried the government statement. Commentators questioned why the government would be seeking foreign assistance to prevent a rebel chemical weapons attack, when it usually says it wants to ban foreign intervention.
The dire humanitarian conditions in Syria have been a major topic of discussion for many months. It’s become more acute as war continues in Aleppo and creeps into Damascus, creating dangerous shortages of food, fuel and water in the country’s two largest cities. Rising prices are a big concern – Nael Hariri, a young physician in Aleppo who opposes the Assad regime and is critical of the opposition, had this update:
Syrians and many observers of the war have become obsessed with weapons and have uploaded thousands of videos documenting the various bombs used by the Assad regime as well as clips of homemade grenades, mortars and, most recently, an armored vehicle. But sometimes even seasoned fighters can’t identify the weapons being used against them, such as this week in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, where a mysterious bomb dropped from the sky and failed to detonate.
When activists are stumped by battle videos they turn to Elliot Higgins, author of the much-read Brown Moses blog, which tracks arms in Syria. His best guess is that the bomb in question is a naval mine.