Syria Accused of War Crimes, Rebels Kill 15 Troops

Posted May 2nd, 2012 at 5:10 pm (UTC-5)
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An international rights group has accused the Syrian government of committing war crimes, while activists said rebels killed 15 security force members as a U.N.-brokered cease-fire continues to unravel.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Syrian forces and pro-government militias killed at least 95 civilians and destroyed hundreds of houses between late March and early April in northwestern Idlib province as U.N. envoy Kofi Annan was attempting to negotiate a cease-fire.

In a 38-page report released Wednesday, the group documented summary executions, civilian killings and arbitrary detentions and torture that it said qualify as war crimes.

Human Rights Watch's Nadim Houry said villagers were rounded up and killed.

“We've documented the extrajudicial executions of at least 35 civilians. These were people that came under the custody of the army and security forces and were shot, in some cases point blank, after they were taken out of their homes.”

Houry also says Syrian forces appeared to have aimed at families and communities.

“We've documented dozens and dozens of cases of houses that have been burned intentionally or destroyed, not from shelling, but actually from soldiers going in and setting them on fire.”

The Syrian government has not commented on the report. It accuses foreign-backed armed groups of instigating the violence and says it reserves the right to defend the nation against insurgency despite a cease-fire. Damascus says 2,600 personnel have been killed by such “armed terrorists.”

Also Wednesday, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels killed 15 security force members in an ambush in Aleppo province. A day earlier, rights groups and activists said at least 30 people were killed, including nine family members in an Idlib village.

Most independent media are barred from Syria or have their movements restricted, making such reports hard to verify.

In Washington, the Treasury Department said the U.S. will send a senior official to the Middle East this month to discuss efforts to enforce sanctions against Syria and Iran. Daniel Glaser, the assistant secretary for terrorist financing, will visit Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Israel and the United Arab Emirates during a 10 day trip.

U.N. observers said the Syrian military still has heavy weapons stationed in cities, and that the government and opposition have both violated the Kofi Annan plan for ending the conflict.

The number of observers in Syria rose to 31 on Wednesday and the chief of mission, Major General Robert Mood, said their numbers would double within days.

Mood said that while the cease-fire is clearly not holding, observers are “having a calming effect” and that “those operating on the ground are taking advice” from the monitors.

The United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have been killed since President Bashar al-Assad began cracking down on an uprising against him in March of last year.