Most western media reports blame either Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his troops or militia loyal to Assad in the surrounding villages for the Houla massacre.. A U.N. Human Rights Council group said evidence pointed towards militia loyal to Assad in the region. However the main source for this conclusion was information from rebel activists in Houla! Reaction was swift and Assad was condemned and Syrian diplomats expelled from many countries in the west including Canada. But was this massacre by Assad or loyal militias?
Actually the situation is not at all clear. The Assad regime denied responsibility and blamed it on terrorists. This is possible. There are al-Qaida linked terrorists from Iraq in Syria who have been staging terror attacks, several of them causing multiple deaths in Damascus. The rebels of course say that alleged terrorist attacks even on targets such as Assad's own security people are staged by the regime. It is hard to really judge which side reaches for the most ridiculous explanations of events, but surely this one should be close to winning first prize. But there is a third explanation that, if some of the facts alleged are true, fits the situation quite well.
One wonders why the Syrian regime would allow a militia to infiltrate and commit these massacres which could only have the result of isolating the Assad regime even more has already been. Who gains by the move? The rebels. But then surely the rebels would not kill their own people just for propaganda purposes? That is a good point indeed, and applies to the attacks upon Assad's own security, etc. However, there is a difference.
According to new reports, most of those killed were not Sunni, who are by far the majority in Houla, but Shia families loyal to Assad and Sunni collaborators. Several reports have indicated that whoever perpetrated the acts actually posted videos on the internet and distributed them to news media. If the victims were pro-Assad rather than Sunni rebels as was assumed, then there is no contradiction in the rebels carrying it out since it would benefit them but reflect blame on Assad and his loyalists.
I really do not know which of these conflicting reports is true, just that the knee-jerk reaction in the West and the almost universal chorus of condemnation of Assad is not at all warranted by the facts. It is not as if the counter evidence only comes from Iranian sources or even Russian sources. The evidence is reported in a well-established German newspaper for example.
Of course I am not saying that Assad is somehow the good guy and not responsible for many heinous acts against peaceful protesters. However, even if that is true, this does not mean that every heinous act in Syria is done by Assad and that groups among the rebels are not up to doing heinous things to pursue their agenda. To think otherwise is to allow moral sympathy to cloud critical capacities.