Video shows 2013 massacre in Syria, not Israeli soldiers executing Palestinians

Thousands have died in the Israel-Hamas war since October 7, 2023, when an unprecedented attack by Hamas sparked retaliatory bombing and a ground offensive by Israel. Images of the conflict have since widely circulating on social media. Certain images, however, are being shared out of context. Since the beginning of November, online posts shared a video alongside claims that it shows Israeli troops executing Palestinians and dumping their bodies in a mass grave. This claim is false; the video was taken in 2013 and shows a massacre perpetrated by the Syrian army in the suburbs of Damascus.

The bloody conflict was sparked by Hamas militants crossing from Gaza into southern Israel where they killed about 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and took about 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel retaliated with a relentless air bombardment and more recently a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip that, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian territory's health ministry, has killed more than 11,500 people, also mainly civilians.

As fighting intensifies US legislators are calling on Israel to “abide by the laws of war”, including the protection of civilians (archived report).

In this context, many graphic images of the war have been shared online by supporters on both sides.

But posts sharing a particularly graphic video claiming to show Israeli soldiers executing Palestinians and forcing them into a mass grave are false.

On November 2, 2023, this Facebook post from an account based in Africa shared a video of several blindfolded and handcuffed men being forced into an open pit before being shot by people in military uniforms.

“Israelis military are conducting a war crime on the ground operation in Gaza they're doing exactly what Hitler did to them (sic),” reads part of the caption.

The post asks online users to share the video widely “before they take it out of social media as they control the social media”.

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A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on November 14, 2023

The same claim was repeated in other English posts in the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as in French, which AFP Fact Check debunked here (in French).

This particular footage was actually filmed in Syria -- and it is not the first time it has been taken out of context.

Syrian massacre

Using the video verification tool InVID-WeVerify, we conducted reverse image searches on multiple keyframes from the video and located several screenshots and partial clips of the same footage published by British daily The Guardian (archived here).


Comparisons between the false online post (left) and the video published by The Guardian (right)

The report, dated April 26, 2022, is headlined, “Massacre in Tadamon: how two academics hunted down a Syrian war criminal”.

The Guardian’s story says the video -- date-stamped April 16, 2013 -- shows a massacre in the Damascus suburb of Tadamon.

According to the report, the footage was discovered by a new recruit who joined a loyalist Syrian militia in 2019. He was handed a laptop that once belonged to one of President Bashar al-Assad’s feared security units.

"A paralysing nausea took hold of the recruit, who instantly decided the footage needed to be seen elsewhere,” the Guardian report says.

A screenshot of The Guardian publication, taken on November 15, 2023

Syria has been fighting a bloody and complex civil war since 2011 when pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring uprisings were brutally repressed. The conflict has claimed more than 500,000 lives and left millions displaced (archived here).

Turkey earthquake

In April 2023, AFP Fact Check debunked the same clip when it circulated alongside claims that it showed the killing of a group of builders in Turkey after a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake flattened entire cities on February 6, 2023, killing more than 50,000 people across southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria.

Following the disaster, the Turkish state announced a rapid series of investigations and arrests of real estate developers accused of shoddy business dealings (archived here).

Like the Israel-Hamas war, the earthquake triggered a wave of misinformation.

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