- Kuwait Times Extra
DAMASCUS: Syrian opposition activists accused the regime yesterday of a gruesome new “massacre” after several hundred people were reported killed in a town near Damascus in a ferocious five-day army assault. Grisly videos issued by opposition militants showed dozens of charred and bloodied bodies lined up in broad daylight in a graveyard, and others lying wall-to-wall in rooms in a mosque in the town of Daraya. At least 320 people were killed in the five-day onslaught on Daraya by troops battling to crush insurgents who have regrouped in the outskirts of the capital, according to a toll from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground, described it as a “massacre” by President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and said many victims had been summarily executed and their bodies burnt. “The shabiha (pro-regime) militias… have been transformed into a killing machine that threatens the Syrian people and our future,” it said. The Daraya killings could prove to be one of the bloodiest episodes of the increasingly brutal conflict that has convulsed Syria for more than 17 months and shows no signs of abating.
Human rights groups have accused the regime of committing many atrocities since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March last year, and a UN panel said earlier this month it was guilty of crimes against humanity. “Bodies were found in fields, basements and shelters and in the streets,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. He said 200 bodies had been identified so far, including 15 women and 14 children, and that many of the victims had died in shelling or were summarily executed. In the first reaction by a world power, Britain said that if confirmed, the Daraya massacre “would be an atrocity on a new scale”.
Assad, whose regime has been hit by a number of defections as the violence intensifies, vowed yesterday that Syria would continue to resist “at any price” what he said was a conspiracy against it by Western and some regional powers. “What is happening right now is not just a plot directed against Syria but the region as a whole, of which Syria is a foundational stone,” he was cited as saying by state news agency SANA. “The Syrian people will not allow this plan to reach its goals, no matter the cost.” And Vice President Faruq Al-Shara – the regime’s top Sunni Muslim official made his first public appearance in over a month at talks with an Iranian official, following opposition claims he had tried to defect and was under house arrest.
Activists issued graphic videos of the scenes in Daraya, one showing dozens of bodies in dimly lit rooms, with a commentary referring to “an odious massacre committed by the gangs of the Assad regime in the Abu Sleiman Addarani Mosque”. In another LCC video, Daraya’s dead, among them at least two children, were shown being prepared for burial, their bodies lying in a hastily dug trench covered with blankets and strewn with palm fronds.
State media said Daraya, a conservative Sunni Muslim town of some 200,000 people, was “purified of terrorist remnants”. Pro-government television Al-Dunia said “terrorists” carried out the attacks, as it interviewed residents including traumatised children and showed a number of bloodied bodies lying in the streets. “Our valiant armed forces cleared Daraya of the remnants of armed terrorist groups which committed crimes that traumatised the citizens of the town and destroyed public and private property,” government newspaper Ath-Thawra said.
Activists described the offensive as a bid to crush “once and for all” the insurgency in Damascus after rebel Free Syrian Army fighters regrouped to the southern outskirts following an army offensive to retake the city last month. The LCC accused the regime of blockading Daraya to choke off supplies and indiscriminately bombarding the town with heavy weapons and warplanes, and carrying out door-to-door raids. “Afterwards the gangs of killers entered the town and carried out summary executions, before dismembering and setting fire to the bodies.” Reports by activists cannot be independently confirmed because of severe restrictions on media operating in Syria.
Meanwhile, the head of the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy committee, Aladin Borujerdi, vowed that Tehran will “stick by our Syrian brothers”. “We see Syria’s security as our security,” he said in Damascus, where he met both Assad and Shara, Iran’s state-owned IRNA news agency said. Tehran – Damascus’s staunchest ally – has said it will submit a plan for ending the conflict to a Non-Aligned Movement summit it is hosting on Thursday and Friday.
The Iranian initiative comes as its foes in the West ramp up the pressure on Damascus, with Washington and London threatening action if it uses its chemical weapons and Paris voicing support for a partial no-fly zone. The Observatory also reported shelling or air strikes in other parts of the country on Sunday including the battered northern city of Aleppo and Daraa in the far south, the cradle of the uprising. A report by UN investigators this month said government forces and their militia allies had committed crimes against humanity and that rebels had also carried out war crimes, although on a lesser scale.
In particular, it held government forces responsible for a massacre in the central town of Houla in May when 108 civilians, including 49 children, were killed in an atrocity that shocked the world. August is already the deadliest single month of the conflict with at least 4,000 people killed, according to the Observatory, while around 25,000 have died since March 2011. The United Nations puts the death toll at more than 17,000 and has warned of a major humanitarian crisis with more than 200,000 refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries and 2.5 million in need inside Syria.
New international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who takes over from Kofi Annan next month, said on Friday he was “scared” of the enormity of the task he faces to try to end what he describes as civil war. Syria warned Brahimi yesterday not to follow the same path as Annan, with Ath-Thawra accusing the former UN chief who quit this month after the failure of his peace plan of “bowing to US and Western pressure”. Damascus said last week it would cooperate with Brahimi to try to pave the way for “national dialogue”, while also suggesting it was ready to discuss Assad’s exit as part of any negotiated solution. – Agencies
Read by 29993