The rebels took, on June 11th, the city of Hatla, located in Deir-al-Zor province, in the east of Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, after burning several houses, the rebels killed at least 60 shia muslim residents, thought it is not clear if they died during the combats or after the city was taken.
Whether all the victims were pro-Assad combatants or civilians (although neutral sources lead to think that there both fighters and civilians were massacred), the message is clear. That the attack was carried on a shi’ite village (and not an Alawite one) could be interpreted as a retaliation against Hezbollah’s intervention in Qusayr.
Since Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, some rebels groups have attempted to attack shi’ites, whether in Chiya’s southern suburb of Beirut, or in the Bekaa Valley, with no (or little) success. Although the rebels promised to attack Hezbollah “anywhere”, it is clear that their infiltration capacity in Lebanon, with the exemption of Tripoli, is practically inexistant. It was evidenced on June the 2nd 2013, when Hezbollah fighters ambushed a rebel group trying to install rocket lanching devices to attack Beirut’s southern suburbs.
As the FSA seems less and less in control of all the rebel groups, what is the future of Geneva II? Both the Syrian National Council and the Syrian regime have expressed their little faith in succeeding in negotiations to achieve peace while at the same time menacing not to be represented in the Geneva talks. Meanwhile, even if the most radical opposition groups will not attend Geneva II, their actions in the battlefield certainly will have their repercussion during the negotiations. The regime will likely use it as an excuse to delegitimize the talks, and the SNC will have to pretend that in a post-Assad Syria, they will be able to control the whole country and overcome the radical’s power.
Finally, after Qusayr’s defeat, we have to ask ourselves: are the rebels going towards a retaliation phase? For the last two weeks, some oppositions groups have achieved what seemed impossible, ousting the Assad-regime and taking their place under the international community spotlight. At the same time, the European Union was debating on arming the rebel groups and Geneva talks were just a few weeks ahead.
Whether Hatla massacre is a message sent to all the parties attending Geneva II or a retaliation against Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, Hatla probably represents an inflexion point in the Syrian conflict.