Assad accused of brutal border crackdown (INDEPENDENT UK) LOVEDAY MORRIS TRIPOLI, LEBANON 04/04/12)
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New mines and increased border security can make refugees´ journey to
Lebanon a deadly one
The already perilous journey for refugees fleeing the violence in
Syria has become increasingly deadly in recent weeks as President
Bashar al-Assad attempts to tighten control of the conflict-ravaged
country´s borders with fresh landmines, say aid workers and fleeing
As spring arrives, the Syrian army is said to be laying new mines
along the 330km long border with Lebanon to replace those washed away
during winter flooding and removed by activists.
It comes amid wider attempts by the Syrian regime to disrupt networks
smuggling people, weapons and aid through the once notoriously porous
borders, and reports of recent incursions into Lebanon to rout out
"We have heard that now that the weather has turned sunny the army
has been replanting the mines," said Hassan al-Sabeh, the Lebanon
country manager for Islamic Relief. Many refugees are now prevented
from crossing at the Syrian side of official checkpoints, he said,
forcing them to seek out illegal routes. "It´s become much more
The testimony comes a day after the Syrian government said it would
co-operate with the a ceasefire plan put forward by the former UN
Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who has set an 10 April deadline for a
cessation in the fighting.
One refugee who fled to Lebanon´s second city of Tripoli two weeks
ago told The Independent that she scoured the ground for any sign of
hidden mines as she crossed with her seven-year-old son, and that the
border hills are littered with the gory remains of those who had
failed to spot them.
"I saw the human flesh and body parts on the ground where people had
trodden on them," said Afida, 41, from the devastated city of Homs.
At one point where the valley she crossed was still flooded, she had
to guide her son across the swollen waters on a makeshift bridge made
from planks of wood with a rope strung overhead.
Activists in Homs say that their smuggling networks have become
increasingly compromised as the Syrian army clamps down on the border
areas. "Between every tree along the border there´s a mine," said Abo
Bakr, from the Baba Amr district of Homs.
Islamic Relief, one of the few intentional organisations to establish
a supply route for aid to Homs, has smuggled £13,000 in medical aid
to the city but says its operations are becoming increasingly
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),
Jakob Kellenberger, met senior Syrian officials including the Foreign
Minister, Walid al-Moallem, in Damascus yesterday to appeal for
greater access to civilians and a two-hour daily halt to the fighting
to allow aid to be administered.
Amnesty International said yesterday that 13 pupils, aged between 17
and 19 were arrested on Sunday at their school in the town of Daraya,
just outside Damascus. They were beaten and verbally abused in front
of their classmates before being taken away.
Jürg Montani, head of the ICRC delegation in Lebanon, could not
confirm whether the deteriorating security situation for fleeing
refugees would also be raised in the meetings. "We are certainly
concerned about anything that makes the passage for refugees
dangerous," he said.
The refugees that do make it over come with stories of the horrors
that they have left behind. Afida´s 21-year-old son had been fighting
with the Free Syrian Army. When the army moved into the city his name
was known. She pulls out her mobile phone, with a picture of the
bloodied corpse of a young man. "They knew who they were after, when
the battle was finished the government thugs came for him," she said.
"I found his body in the hospital. They had gouged his eyes out and
then shot him in the back."
´He cannot stay´: Exiled uncle hits out
The exiled uncle of the Syrian President yesterday said he believes
it is unlikely his nephew will be able to hold on to power much
longer as violence rages across much of the country. "The problems
are now general to all parts of Syria – there are no places that have
escaped violence – so I don´t think he can stay," Rifaat al-Assad,
who currently resides in Paris but owns property in London´s Mayfair,
told the BBC.
The 74-year-old has set up his own opposition group, and yesterday
hinted he may have designs on returning to play a political role in
Syria. "The Assad family has got much more importance and support
than some of the meaningless figures [of the opposition Syrian
National Council] who we see on TV screens now," he said.
Anger as assad makes Time-100 list
Syrian protesters have poured scorn upon President Bashar al-Assad
being named as one of the most influential people in the world after
Time magazine listed the dictator among the contenders for its annual
Twitter was awash with the hashtag #ShameOnTIME yesterday, as Mr
Assad´s opponents complained that a dictator who has overseen the
killing of more than 9,000 people over the past year is not fit for
the Time-100 list.
The weekly news magazine has underlined that being influential and
being a good person are not necessarily the same thing. Previous
winners of its separate Person of the Year title have included Adolf
Hitler in 1938 and Joseph Stalin, who took the title in 1939 and 1942.
Nevertheless, Mr Assad´s inclusion among 200 names compiled for a
public vote on the magazine´s website stoked anger amongst
dissidents. One campaigner said it was "disturbing and
disrespectful", while another noted: "His influence doesn´t exceed
murder, rape and torture."
Mr Assad´s ability to maintain power a year into the Syrian uprising
was credited by the magazine as a legitimate reason for his place on
"Many hoped Assad would have fallen from power by now, but he has
survived a year of rebellion by unleashing ruthless violence against
opposition strongholds, turning that effort into a sectarian civil
war," says his entry in the magazine poll.
Rob Hastings (©independent.co.uk 04/04/12)
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