Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, December 2011
Syrian Forces 'Authorized to Shoot to Kill' Protesters, Says HRW
France 24, 2011
Dozens of Syrian military commanders and officials authorized or gave direct orders for widespread killings, torture, and illegal arrests during the wave of anti-government protests that began nine months ago, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
The 88-page report by the New York-based group, entitled, "’By All Means Necessary!’:
Individual and Command Responsibility for Crimes against Humanity in Syria," is based on more than 60 interviews with defectors from the Syrian military and intelligence agencies.
The report identifies 74 commanders and officials behind the alleged abuse.
"Defectors gave us names, ranks, and positions of those who gave the orders to shoot and kill, and each and every official named in this report, up to the very highest levels of the Syrian government, should answer for their crimes against the Syrian people," said Anna Neistat, associate director for emergencies at Human Rights Watch.
The report said the abuses constitute crimes against humanity and that the U.N. Security Council should refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Syria claims armed gangs and terrorists are behind the uprising, not protesters seeking more freedoms and reform in one of the most totalitarian regimes in the Middle East.
In a rare interview that aired Dec. 7, Syrian President Bashar Assad told ABC’s Barbara Walters that he never ordered the brutal suppression of the uprising in his country. Assad, who commands Syria’s armed forces, has sealed off the country to most outsiders while clinging to the allegation that the uprising is the work of foreign extremists, not true reform-seekers aiming to open the authoritarian political system.
The United Nations and others dismiss that entirely, blaming the regime for widespread killings, rape and torture. Witnesses and activists inside Syria describe brutal repression, with government forces firing on unarmed protesters and conducting terrifying, house-to-house raids in which families are dragged from their homes in the night.
"Try as he may to distance himself from responsibility for his government’s relentless brutality, President Assad’s claim that he did not actually order the crackdown does not absolve him of criminal responsibility," Neistat said. "As the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he must have known about the abuses - if not from his subordinates, then from UN reports and the reports Human Rights Watch sent him."
All of the defectors interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their commanders gave standing orders to stop the overwhelmingly peaceful protests throughout the country "by all means necessary" - a phrase they understood to be an authorization to use lethal force, especially since they had been given live ammunition instead of other means of crowd control.
About half the defectors interviewed by HRW said the commanders of their units or other officers also gave them direct orders to fire at protesters or bystanders, and reassured them that they would not be held accountable.
The report quotes defectors as saying that in some cases, officers themselves participated in the killings.
Syrian soldiers gunned down in revenge attack
France 24, December 15, 2011, AP -
Violence across Syria killed at least 25 people Wednesday, including eight soldiers who were gunned down by army defectors in a retaliatory ambush after government troops destroyed a civilian car, activists said.
It was the second day in a row in which an attack by President Bashar Assad’s forces on civilians appears to have brought a quick and deadly act of revenge by anti-regime fighters. The ambush was the latest sign that the once-peaceful protest movement is growing into an insurgency.
The brazen midday attack came hours after troops fired upon a civilian car traveling through the village of Khattab in the countryside of the central province of Hama, killing all five passengers inside.
The vehicle “exploded in a ball of fire,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground inside the country.
Hours later, he said, gunmen ambushed a convoy of four military jeeps passing through the nearby village of al-Asharna on the northern outskirts of the city of Hama, spraying it with bullets. The gunmen are believed to be military defectors seeking revenge for the dawn attack targeting the car, he said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the ambush, but the Free Syrian Army, a Turkish-based defector group, has in the past claimed similar attacks across the country.
Abdul-Rahman and other activists who confirmed the initial car attack did not say why soldiers targeted the vehicle, but security forces frequently hunt for suspects in the restive area.
“The area is a stronghold of dissent where anti-regime protests are routinely held and where there are a number of (army) defectors,” he said.
The Local Coordination Committees group said the car was destroyed by a shell fired by the army. A third activist based in Syria who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal said the car was struck by a hail of bullets.
The differing accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
Activists said 17 other people were believed killed by security forces in Homs, Idlib, Daraa and elsewhere.
The Observatory also reported heavy gunfire in Hirak village in the southern province of Daraa, as troops backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers hunted for activists. Three anti-regime military defectors were wounded in clashes with Syrian security forces in the area, it said.
The new shootings follow a spike in violence which left 38 dead on Tuesday, mostly in a restive northwestern province bordering Turkey.
The fighting in Idlib province included an ambush by army defectors, who killed seven government troops traveling in a convoy. Activists said the defectors were avenging the shooting of 11 civilians in a nearby village.
A 46-year-old Turkish citizen, Munur Dural, was killed near the northern city of Idlib, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said without citing sources on Wednesday.
NTV television, citing local sources, said Dural was killed Tuesday when he was caught in the middle of a shootout near Idlib. Dural was returning to Saudi Arabia after vacationing in Turkey, the channel added.
There was no immediate comment from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.
The U.N. says more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt erupted in March.
Separately, a pro-government newspaper reported Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustafa, has been named envoy to China.
Al-Watan newspaper said President Assad had issued a decree appointing Mustafa, who was recalled in October in response to the Washington’s withdrawal of U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford from Damascus over security concerns. Ford returned to Syria last week.
There was no official confirmation from Syrian authorities of the newspaper report. It was not immediately clear whether the appointment would affect strained relations, or whether it meant Syria would keep the U.S. post vacant.
China, along with Russia - two veto-wielding countries on the U.N. Security Council - have been supportive of Damascus. Last month the two countries vetoed a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria.
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