As fighting rages on in the heart of Damascus, still reeling from a stunning attack on Syria’s military leadership Wednesday, Syrian state media called the bombing a failure and alleged that a Qatari company was staging fake videos using models of the capital and another city, Aleppo, to mislead the world.
The claims are the latest salvo in the propaganda battle over the 16-month Syrian uprising. With scant access for foreign journalists, Syrian state media and opposition activists have competed to control the story, offering radically different accounts of what is happening inside the battered country.
To the chagrin of the government, amateur videos shared online by opposition activists showing shelling, bloodied corpses and gunfire have become a crucial current of information for the outside world, often appearing on Arab and Western television. And with the United Nations forced to crimp its monitoring mission because of escalating violence, death tolls are often supplied by activists instead.
“In the short term at least, journalists have little choice but to continue to rely on activists for much of their information,” journalist Jess Hill wrote earlier this year in the Global Mail, expressing the unease that she and other correspondents feel in using activists for so much of their information.
Syrian officials have often cast doubt on online videos and disputed accounts from opposition activists, blaming killings on “terrorists” –- the government term for the rebels -– rather than the army or its allies. State media frequently claim that Syria is the victim of an international conspiracy.
Stepping up the allegations that the violence is not what it appears, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported Thursday that “special sources” said a Qatari security company had manufactured models mimicking official buildings in Syrian cities and gathered people to pose as military personnel “to film fake videos and fabricated photos about the situation in Syria.”
The allegations echo similar claims made during the Libyan uprising against Moammar Kadafi that fake attacks were being staged in Qatar.
In an even more alarming claim, Syrian state television warned citizens Thursday that gunmen were planning to attack in Damascus disguised in military uniforms as a way of “exploiting the trust of citizens in our courageous armed forces,” Reuters reported.
In the wake of the Wednesday bombing, Syrian state television also sought to combat rumors that President Bashar Assad had been harmed, airing footage of him at the swearing-in of the new defense minister, whose predecessor was killed in the attack. But it was unclear where the ceremony took place.
State television dubbed the attack a failure and portrayed it as part of a U.S.- and Israeli-backed conspiracy against the country. Television commentators scoffed at the idea that the bombing would hurt the state; Western analysts have widely seen the strike as a major blow to the government.
The bombing “will not shake our determination and the determination of the army, but will strengthen it,” one Syrian man told Al-Ikhbariyah on Thursday, according to the BBC media monitoring service.