Syria: Rebels committed “War Crimes” in siege on Christian village

November 28, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

 

A humble funeral procession for some of the Christians killed in Saddad

A humble funeral procession for some of the Christians killed in Saddad

Syria, November 27, 2013: Human Rights Watch (HRW) said opposition forces committed war crimes in a siege on the Christian village of Saddad, Syria, by killing civilians, preventing residents from escaping, and targeting churches.

The leading human rights organisation visited the village, which was occupied by rebel troops between 21 and 28 October, and interviewed residents and the mayor about their ordeal. Their findings confirm earlier reports by Barnabas Fund, which were based on information from our partners in Syria.

HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said:

Opposition fighters came into Saddad claiming they would not harm civilians, but they did just that. There is no excuse for indiscriminate or targeted attacks against civilians or civilian sites.

The group found that the rebels executed civilians and others in their custody, and that other civilians were also killed unlawfully by sniper fire, both of which actions are war crimes.

HRW identified the names of 46 people from Saddad, 41 of whom were civilians, who were killed during the week-long siege, in which opposition fighters battled against government troops.

In one particularly savage case, six members of one family were shot in the head and their bodies dumped in a well. They had been blindfolded, and their hands were tied. They were Najla Mtanes al-Sheikh (45); her sons, Ranim Sarkis Drouj (18) and Fadi Sarkis Drouj (16); her elderly father, Mtanes Sleiman al-Sheikh; Habsa Nassif al-Sheikh (75); and Maryam Nassif al-Sheikh (90).

A neighbour had tried to help them escape on 24 October, but Najla, whose family was one of the last to remain in the area, had said it would be impossible to leave because she had three elderly relatives with her. When he called the next morning, there was no answer.

In another incident, three people were killed by shelling while delivering food to besieged neighbours on 25 October.

Other Saddad residents lost their lives because the rebels refused to allow them to leave their homes to escape the fighting. In one case, four members of the same family died when an explosion caused the house they were sheltering in to collapse.

HRW spoke to one resident who was used as a human shield. They came to “Fouad’s” home and, in front of his three children, wife, mother and niece, told him to lie down and then hit him with their rifle butts. One said, “We kill Nasara [Christians]”.

Fouad said:

Two of them took me with them to walk down the street, walking on either side of me until we passed the [government] sniper, so he wouldn’t shoot. And then they left me.

HRW said that the use of human shields was prohibited under international humanitarian law and that parties to a conflict must take all feasible precautions to minimise loss of civilian life.

Opposition fighters vandalised, looted and damaged property in at least three churches of local and historical significance and also stole residents’ property. Rebel groups graffitied the interior walls of one church with their name tags.

HRW said that pillaging and deliberate attacks on religious sites that are not military objectives are war crimes.

Various opposition groups were involved in the Saddad siege, which they referred to as part of the “Battle of God’s Doors Do Not Shut” operation. Among them were the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and also battalions from the so-called moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA).

HRW urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court to “strip all sides of their sense of impunity”.

– barnabas team

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