Who can we trust on Syria?

Another gruesome video from Syria raises questions about the reliability of 'facts' on the ground.

On Sunday, shocking footage emerged from the Syrian city of Homs in which a man appears to be shot in the head by a sniper.

The video (which some viewers may find distressing) seems to show the cameraman being fired on by a sniper hiding in the shadows. The screen goes blank, then moaning can be heard, along with cries for help.

It is a chilling depiction of senseless violence against a (reportedly) unarmed civilian. Activists say Syrian forces are now targeting those seen filming on mobile phones.

This footage marks the latest in a series of horrifying images, videos and facts that have been trickling steadily out of Syria since Bashar Assad's regime began its crackdown in March this year. Other videos to have emerged recently include scenes of a teenager being wounded during protests in Hama, and graphic footage of the mutilated body of a 13-year-old boy (which again may be found distressing by some viewers). But because foreign journalists and human rights groups have been banned from the country, it is nearly impossible to authenticate the sources of such information.

A quick glance at the comments on the YouTube page of the sniper video is enough to see that scepticism and distrust is rife -- in Syria as much as in the wider international community.

One commentator dismisses the video as a fake, saying: "r u [sic] guys serious.. I can perform better even though I'm not an actor... I have seen a lot better fabricated films.. the quality is getting worse, running out of money may be..[sic]"

Events in Syria are demonstrably dangerous, and president Assad appears happy to do whatever it takes to cling on to power -- but it is telling of both the regime's propaganda machine and the wider problem of verifying information that such footage has not simply been taken at face value.

Although the videos may well be authentic, it is very difficult for anyone outside Syria to know that as yet. Online activists will not be quick to forget the lesson of Amina Arraf, the gay Syrian blogger who turned out to be an American graduate student living in Scotland.

A separate video, also posted at the weekend, seems to show the killing of activist and blogger, Diyya al Najjar, as security forces clash with protesters in the al-Qarabis neighbourhood of Homs.

For Assad, the evidence seems to be steadily mounting against him -- but we in the international community must also be wary of believing everything that we hear, and keep our eyes and ears open to the truth.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is the editor and founder of The Arab Review, an online journal covering arts and culture in the Arab world. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in the politics of the Middle East.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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