Horrific deaths, grave torture: Amnesty accuses Syria of war crimes

Amnesty International has called for an immediate international response to the violent attacks in Syria carried out by regime forces. (Reuters)

Amnesty International claims it has gathered fresh evidence that the Syrian regime is exacting revenge against communities suspected of supporting opposition groups, the rights groups said on Thursday.

The “revenge” includes a “pattern of grave abuses” in which victims, including children, had been dragged from their homes and shot dead by soldiers, who in some cases then set the remains on fire.

The London-based rights group called for an immediate international response to the violence.

“This disturbing new evidence of an organized pattern of grave abuses highlights the pressing need for decisive international action,” said Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera on release of the 70-page report entitled Deadly Reprisals.

The charity interviewed people in 23 towns and villages across Syria and concluded that Syrian government forces and militias were guilty of “grave human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

Reporting on the revolt which broke out in March last year, Amnesty described how soldiers and Shabiha militias burned down homes and properties and fired indiscriminately into residential areas, killing and injuring civilian bystanders.

“Everywhere I went, I met distraught residents who asked why the world is standing by and doing nothing,” said Rovera.

The report also accused the regime of routinely torturing those who were arrested, including the sick and elderly.

In the report, Amnesty called on the United Nations Security Council to refer the case to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to impose an arms embargo on Syria.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 12,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began, most of them civilians.

U.N. monitors enter Haffa

A United Nations observer convoy has arrived in the Syrian town of Haffa, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Thursday, two days after the monitors were forced to turn back from the site of recent clashes due to attacks by angry residents.

“Our observers entered al-Haffa,” spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said in an email.

International envoy Kofi Annan said on Monday he was worried residents were trapped in Haffa, while the United States said it feared a “potential massacre” was under way.

More violence

In the early hours of Thursday, the state-run Syrian news agency (SANA) reported a car bomb near the Sayyida Zainab, a Damascus suburb that is home to a Shiite Muslim shrine popular with Iranian and other Shiite pilgrims.

SANA then announced that Syrian regime forces would fire on those who attempted to approach the bombing site, adding that ambulance vehicles had reached the location, Al Arabiya reported.

It was not immediately clear what the target of Thursday’s blast was. SANA says the car bomb detonated in a parking lot near the Imam Sadr Hospital in Sayyida Zainab.

It says the bomb caused substantial material damage. At least 14 people were wounded.

Car bombs and suicide bombings have become common in Syria as the 15-month uprising against Assad has become increasingly militarized.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army fired heavy artillery on the city of Deir al-Zor on Thursday, killing at least 11 people after a ground offensive met heavy resistance in the capital of the oil-producing province, opposition sources said.

The overnight barrage from nearby hills followed the withdrawal of hundreds of troops backed by tanks that had entered the city on Wednesday to root out rebels, the sources said. About 200 people were wounded in the shelling, they said.

A main oil pipeline from Deir al-Zor province feeds Syria's two refineries, in the city of Homs and an export terminal on the Mediterranean. Large swathes of the province have fallen into rebel hands in the past few months.

Another car bomb in Idlib city targeted a military checkpoint, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that a number of soldiers were killed or wounded in the blast. No further details were immediately available.

The Observatory said meanwhile that clashes between regime troops and rebels erupted early morning in the central city of Homs, where four people were killed before dawn, including three civilians and a rebel fighter.

It added that Ahmed Bahbouh, the head of the rebel military office in Rastan and a leading dissident figure, was killed in violent clashes with government forces in Homs province, the watchdog said.

A civilian was killed in crossfire as rebel fighters and government troops clashed at the entrances of the rebel-held town, which the regime has been trying to overrun for months.

In the southern city of Daraa five people were killed before dawn, including four in the neighborhood of Tareek al-Sad, which was heavily shelled by regime troops, the Observatory said.

“Government forces have surrounded the neighborhood of Tareek al-Sad in preparation to storm the area,” it said.

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