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Assad issues fresh general amnesty for crimes committed in Syria

Published: Updated:

A general amnesty for crimes committed in war-torn Syria prior to Tuesday has been issued by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, state news agency SANA reported.

"President Assad has issued decree number 23, granting a general amnesty for crimes committed before April 16, 2013," said the agency.

Under the decree, "the death penalty will be replaced with a life sentence of hard labor," it added.

Assad has issued several amnesty decrees since an uprising against his regime erupted in March 2011.

The latest will not apply to people found guilty of smuggling weapons or drug-related crimes, but those convicted of joining the rebellion would get lighter sentences, said the text of the decree published on SANA.

"Syrians who joined a terrorist organization will only have to serve a quarter of their sentences," said the decree.

"The decision does not apply to those who avoided conscription," the text added.

Syrian opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib said the reductions would be seen as a positive gesture only if the women and children among the detainees were released in the coming days.

"We want an amnesty on crimes and the release of all innocents of which there are more than 160,000. Most importantly among them are the women and children. If this happens we will say it is a token of a Syrian solution," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Rami Abdelrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said he did not see it as sufficient because it did not address political prisoners.

"Many will ask what good it does if political activists continue to be arrested daily," Abdelrahman told Reuters news agency.

"We are certain that there are still tens of thousands of people detained, many of them simply missing. What concerns us most is that the government stops taking political prisoners and free the many already held in Syrian jails."

The decree marks the holiday of Evacuation Day – the commemoration of the departure of the last French soldier in Syria, ending France's occupation and allowing the proclamation of full independence on April 17, 1946.

Meanwhile, pro-regime television al-Ikhbariya channel is set to air an interview with Assad on Wednesday, the broadcaster said.

"Syria's Al-Ikhbariya has conducted an exclusive interview with President Bashar al-Assad... and it will be broadcast on Wednesday... at 9:30 pm (1830 GMT)," the channel said on its Facebook page, according to AFP news agency.

Al-Ikhbariya published a photograph showing Assad seated in an office with two journalists.

In his last public appearance, Assad told two Turkish media outlets that the fall of his regime would produce a "domino effect" that would destabilise the region "for many years".

"The whole world knows that if Syria is partitioned, or if terrorist forces take control of the country, there will be direct contagion of the surrounding countries," he said on April 5.