Human Rights Watch alleges serious abuses by some Syrian rebel soldiers (WASHINGTON POST) By Liz Sly ANTAKYA, Turkey 03/20/12)
WASHINGTON POST Articles-Index-Top
ANTAKYA, Turkey — Even as Syria’s security forces have tortured and
massacred civilians and anti-government activists, armed members of
the Syrian opposition have carried out “serious human rights abuses”
against Syrian soldiers and some civilians, the New York-based Human
Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The watchdog organization made the allegations of kidnapping,
torture, detention and other misconduct in a public letter to the
main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, and other
opposition groups. The letter urges anti-government leaders to
condemn and forbid the abuses.
Those carrying out the abuses do not appear to be answerable to any
of the main opposition structures, Human Rights Watch said. But it is
nonetheless important for opposition leaders to “make it clear to
their followers that they must not torture, kidnap, or execute under
any circumstances,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s
Middle East director.
“The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by
armed opposition groups,” Whitson said.
Her group quoted a witness called Mazen as saying that three people
who worked with the government had been tortured to death in the
northern village of Taftanaz. An opposition activist called Samih
told Human Rights Watch that members of the Free Syrian Army were
kidnapping Syrian soldiers and exchanging them for ransom in the
nearby town of Saraqeb.
In addition, Human Rights Watch said it had viewed 25 videos on
YouTube that showed instances in which members of the Syrian security
forces had been detained by the opposition and forced to confess to
crimes under duress. One video showed the apparent execution of a
member of one of the pro-government militias known as shabeeha. The
man was hanged on a tree.
Foreign reporters have been mostly barred from entering Syria during
the year-long uprising, and it is difficult to independently confirm
details of what is happening there. But violent clashes between
security forces and the armed opposition appear to be continuing.
A rare gun battle broke out early Monday between rebels and security
forces in an upscale neighborhood of central Damascus, taking the
violence that has ravaged many other parts of Syria to the heart of
the capital and undermining government claims that it is asserting
control after a year of unrest.
Residents of the western Mezzeh neighborhood, which is home to
foreign embassies, government offices and senior officials, described
hearing explosions and gunfire over several hours, starting early
Monday morning. Many said this was the fiercest fighting yet in the
capital since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule
began a year ago.
Video footage posted on YouTube showed a burned-out apartment on the
top floor of a six-story building, with bullet and shrapnel scars in
the stairwell indicating a fierce battle.
The government and the rebels gave conflicting accounts of what had
occurred. The official Syrian Arab News Agency said the battles
erupted when government forces stormed a “terrorist” hideout in an
apartment building in the area. It said two gunmen and a member of
the security forces were killed, but it gave no further details.
The Free Syrian Army said, however, that its fighters had launched an
attack on the Political Security Directorate, a branch of the
security forces, using rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.
Some details of the assertions by the opposition force appeared
improbable. Col. Malik al-Kurdi, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army
interviewed at the military refugee camp in Turkey that serves as a
de facto headquarters for the rebel group, said that 87 government
soldiers were killed in the assault and that no rebels died.
Rami Abdulrahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights said it did appear, however, that armed rebels had carried out
an attack in the symbolically significant area, targeting the home of
a major general with a rocket-propelled grenade and then taking
refuge in a nearby apartment building, where they held out against
the security forces for three hours. He cited witnesses as saying
that four rebel fighters and two members of the security forces died.
The attack was significant, Abdulrahman said, because it signaled
that the government is unable even to secure one of the capital’s
most prosperous and politically sensitive neighborhoods.
“To fight for three hours in Mezzeh is something. They attacked the
house of a top official in Damascus, and maybe tomorrow they will
attack the house of Bashar al-Assad,” he said. “Even with one RPG, it
shows they are there. They are trying to say, ‘We are here, and we
can go anywhere.’ ”
The attack was intended to boost flagging morale and to remind the
government that the Free Syrian Army still has the capacity to fight,
Kurdi said. The opposition has recently suffered setbacks in the city
of Homs and the northern province of Idlib, where government forces
reclaimed many areas that had fallen under rebel control.
“We have threatened the regime many times before to take the fight to
the heart of the capital, and now we have done it,” he said. “And we
will continue with our attacks because this regime doesn’t understand
any language other than force.”
Kurdi added that the attack signaled the launch of a new Free Syrian
Army brigade, the first to be based in the capital, called the
Brigade of the Martyrs of the Capital, bringing the total number of
brigades to more than 30.
The officers camped out in Turkey have almost no control, however,
over the ad hoc rebel units fighting on the ground inside Syria, most
of which were formed spontaneously at the community level by defected
soldiers and residents frustrated with the levels of violence used by
the government to suppress the protest movement.
Amid concerns that civilian suffering is growing as the government
presses its offensive against areas held by the rebels in the north
and center of the country, Russia agreed Monday to a request from the
International Committee of the Red Cross to try to exert pressure on
the Assad government to allow aid into stricken areas.
In a statement issued after a meeting with ICRC head Jakob
Kellenberger, Russia urged all sides in the conflict to observe daily
cease-fires to allow aid into stricken areas.
“The sides called on the Syrian government and all armed groups who
oppose it to agree without delay to daily humanitarian pauses,” the
Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Many Syrian activists blame Russia’s Feb. 4 veto of a United Nations
Security Council resolution on Syria for the recent upsurge in
violence, saying it gave a green light to Assad to crush the revolt
without fear of intervention. (© 2010 The Washington Post Company
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY