Despite an ostensible cease-fire, violence flared across the country, with a roadside bomb killing 10 soldiers in the south, according to the state-run news, while YouTube videos posted from the devastated city of Homs showed flames and intense black smoke after government shelling of a downtown residential neighborhood.
There are several channels on Youtube which aggregate various videos coming out of Syria. The most complete one is SHAMSNN with over 90,000 videos. Another one is UgaritNews which has an Arabic channel with some 50,000 videos and a much smaller English channel.
As I regularly click through those channels I found that over the last days the number of videos of shelling of parts of Homs significantly decreased, the numbers of “martyr” videos showing dead young bearded men increased and the size of the various demonstrations in the videos is smaller than it has earlier been. All that points to a subsiding insurgency.
Checking through those channels I also registered a new phenomenon starting around April 11 with some videos showing intense fires on rooftops in Homs which is what the New York Times report above characterizes as “flames and intense black smoke”. But the NYT’s insinuation that these fires are the result of government shelling seem wrong to me. I suspect that these “flames and intense black smoke” events are created by the insurgency in another successful attempt of media manipulation.
Typically mortars are filled with high explosives. They explode on impact with a slight flash and the visible result in a city is usually a cloud of grey dust and lots of small shrapnel impacts on the walls of buildings. Mortars create damage and kill through the pressure wave and the shrapnel. This older video seems to show several such typical mortar impacts in Homs and none of them has “flames and black smoke”.
But where would “flames and intense black smoke” come from if not from mortar fire? Dark black smoke usually comes from burning hydrocarbons like tar, oil or from burning the coom in rubber tires. I am not aware of any mortar ammunition type that could cause such by itself.
But mortars can cause fire. Could the burning on the roofs be caused by mortars? Most roofs in Homs are flat and, unlike in northern Europe, those flat roofs in Syria are not covered by tar paper as the arid climate makes covering the concrete from daily rain unnecessary. From my travels in Turkey near the Syrian border I remember sitting on several such naked concrete roofs for the usual evening chat and tea.
Let’s look at some of these “flames and black smoke” videos.
A fire on a roof uploaded to Youtube on April 16.
It is clearly a concrete roof. In the video can see the columns that will be used when the house owner will have enough money to put the next level on top of it. There is no reason to see why there is fire on this roof. The satellite dish on the roof seems to be undamaged from a blast like a mortar would create. The video features a voice that calls for “Mister Annan” and in the background some people are shouting and banging doors. Are they faking battle noise? Another video shows the same fire seen from the street level with the same voice speaking and cars passing by with a bit of honking.
So was this a mortar impact in a fighting zone or some old tire and gasoline used on some open roof someone had access to?
And how came that the same guy with the same voice happened to film another incident of “flames and intense black smoke” on a roof but at nighttime and five days earlier on April 11?
This is another “flames and intense black smoke” fire on a roof top with the video uploaded on April 18.
Notice how the satellite dish next to the fire seems undamaged. Has there really been a mortar blast that caused this fire? The speaker uses an agitated voice and mentions Kofi Annan. But the voices in the background at 0:30 are not agitated at all.
The same speaker with a somewhat similar text performs in this video which shows “flames and intense black smoke” on a roof filmed from the street level. It was also uploaded on the 18th.
There are “flames and intense black smoke” blast videos too. But again looking for example at this picture from this video what is it that we a really seeing? Has this been caused by a mortar or by some dynamite used on a barrel of oil?
Here is another example of such a dark smoke explosion on a rooftop.
The video was taken near dusk and uploaded yesterday. Notice how the camera seems to know where it has to look when the explosion happens and how very unsurprised the voice in the video sounds.
This is likely the same explosion from a different perspective.
The video was also taken at dusk and also uploaded yesterday. At 0:27 the camera turns to a per-prepared cardboard with some Arabic writing including yesterday’s date on it. Someone knew what was coming up and prepared a date proof for the video?
Also uploaded yesterday was this guy standing on a roof next to a satellite dish and ranting about the “flames and intense black smoke” on a neighboring rooftop.
Four different recordings taken at dusk and uploaded yesterday with one conveniently catching the moment of the explosion, one with a pre-prepared date proof and one with a rant calling for Kofi Annan. Was this by chance or were there three video teams to document a prepared event of “flames and intense black smoke”?
Back in March the British TV Channel 4 documented how “video activists” in Homs used burning tires to fake a battle for one of their reports. We have documented here that one Kahled Abu Saleh in Homs has used fakery in several of his videos. He is, by the way, back in that business.
So we do know that these people in Homs fake at least some of the events their videos show. While there is no definite proof yet that the above videos are showing fires and explosions created intentional by the insurgents there is enough in and around them that lets me seriously doubt that those “flames and intense black smoke” on the roofs of Homs are the result of “government shelling”.