Syrian troops accused of ‘crimes against humanity’ by undercover Amnesty workers as Damascus is hit by devastating car bomb

Brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s forces are murdering civilians in organised attacks on towns and villages that amount to crimes against humanity, Amnesty International said today.

The rights group has now repeated its call for the United Nations Security Council to refer Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and to impose an arms embargo.

Amnesty’s findings, detailed in a 70-page report, add to reports of massacres elsewhere in Syria as the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad was declared a civil war.

It comes as a booby-trapped car exploded in a Damascus suburb this morning, wounding at least two people.

Blast: A car bomb exploded in Damascus today as Amnesty International accused Syrian dictator Bashar Assad of crimes against humanity

Researchers visited 23 towns and villages in the Aleppo and Idlib provinces between April and May.

They conducted interviews with more than 200 people, including many whose relatives had been killed or whose homes had been destroyed.    

Amnesty adviser Donatella Rovera said she had found repeated examples of brutality against civilians during two months of unauthorised visits to northwest Syria.

She said: ‘Wherever I went, in every town, in every village, there was a very similar pattern.

‘Soldiers who went in, in very large numbers, for very short but very brutal incursions where they extra-judicially executed young men, burned down their homes.

‘Those who they arrested were then tortured in detention. And that was really repeated in every town and every village that I visited.

Fighters: Free Syrian Army members, with covered faces and holding weapons, sit by the side of a street in the Qaboun district of Damascus

‘The bulk, the overwhelming majority of the violations are being committed by the government security forces and their paramilitary militia against the civilian population.’

A peace plan brokered by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has failed to end bloodshed that has cost the lives of more than 10,000 people.

Syria’s government says it is not cracking down on activists, but fighting foreign-backed ‘terrorists’ it blames for killing hundreds of soldiers and police.

Witnesses quoted in the Amnesty report said most of those killed had nothing to do with the resistance to Assad’s rule.

A resident of Saraqeb in Idlib province described how soldiers had carried out door-to-door searches, killing people as they fled or in their homes.

Conflict continues: An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on Monday shows smoke billowing from the flashpoint Syrian city of Homs which activists said was being attacked by regime force

He said: ‘The army seemed to consider all the men in these towns, especially young men but not only, as terrorists.

‘Most of those executed in this way were not fighters, just ordinary people. Some were killed just because the army could not find their wanted relatives.’

Amnesty said the report provided ‘further evidence that deliberate and unlawful killings are part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population’.

It was ‘carried out in an organised manner and as part of state policy, and therefore amount to crimes against humanity’.

Demanding change: Demonstrators in Kafranbel, near Idlib hold a placard (left) that reads: 'Are you dumb? Is there any sane person who really believes there could be a peaceful solution?'

Yesterday France called for the UN to enforce envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan for Syria – in a move which could see force used against Assad’s regime.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was hoping that Russia, a key ally of Syria, would agree to invoking the UN’s Chapter 7 to make it happen.

It allows the use of military force. The first stage could be to impose a No Fly Zone and allow humanitarian aid into the country.

But, as seen in other conflicts, it could escalate to more drastic action if the regime doesn’t bend to international demands.

And echoing UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous’s comments the day before, he said the Syrian conflict was now a ‘civil war’.

He said: ‘We propose making the implementation of the Annan plan compulsory.

‘We need to pass to the next speed at the Security Council and place the Annan plan under Chapter 7 – that is to say make it compulsory under pain of very heavy sanctions.’

France would propose toughening sanctions on Syria at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers, he added.

And the international community would prepare a list of second-ranking military officials who would be pursued by international justice, alongside President Bashar Assad and his immediate entourage.    

He said: ‘They must understand that the only future is in resisting oppression. The time for taking a decision has arrived. They have to jump ship.’

Outrage: Mourners attend a mass burial in Syria for more than 100 people, half of whom were children, killed in a massacre in the city of Houla last month

The chaos continued today as a car bomb exploded in a Damascus suburb home to a popular Shiite Muslim shrine, wounding at least two people.

Activists said regime troops were also continuing to shell rebellious areas in central Homs province. It was not immediately clear what the target of Thursday’s blast in Sayyida Zainab was.

State news said the car bomb detonated in a parking lot near the Imam Sadr Hospital, causing substantial material damage.

Car bombs and suicide bombings have become common in Syria as the 15-month uprising against President Bashar Assad has become increasingly militarised with both sides of the conflict now using more powerful weapons.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three civilians were killed overnight in clashes at the entrances of the Jouret el-Shayyah neighborhood in Homs city.

Another died in the rebel-held town of Rastan north of Homs, which has been under constant and intense fire from regime forces for days.

Syrian forces yesterday overran a mountain enclave near the Mediterranean coast, seizing the territory back from rebels after battles that raged for eight days.

State television said regime forces had ‘cleansed’ Haffa of ‘armed terrorist groups’ and the Foreign Ministry urged UN observers to immediately head there ‘to check what the terrorist groups have done’.

UN observers did not go to Haffa yesterday though and are assessing the situation to determine when they can successfully reach the town, UN peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said.

On Tuesday, an angry crowd hurled rocks and sticks at the UN mission’s vehicles, forcing them to turn back. None of the observers was hurt.

Sausan Ghosheh, a spokeswoman for the observers, said they have been trying to reach Haffa since June 7.

Source: Daily Mail

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