Syrian new year sees tortured corpses

BLOODSHED::The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights counts 45,000 killed in the 21-month conflict, including 39,362 in the past year, as the regime stepped up airstrikes


Wed, Jan 02, 2013 - Page 6

Violence ravaged Syria into the new year, with the gruesome discovery of what activists said were dozens of tortured corpses in Damascus, clouding end-of-year efforts to end 21 months of bloodshed.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said it welcomed any initiative for talks to end bloodshed in the country, after UN-Arab League envoy Brahimi said he had a peace plan acceptable to world powers.

The government’s position, as expressed by Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi, came amid a flurry of diplomacy led by Brahimi to halt the conflict that monitors say has killed more then 45,000 people.

Nearly 90 percent of the dead came in the past 12 months, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of medics and activists on the ground.

It reported the discovery of 30 tortured bodies in a flashpoint district of Damascus, while a gruesome video emerged of a separate slaying of three children in the capital.

“Thirty bodies were found in the Barzeh District. They bore signs of torture and have so far not been identified,” the Observatory said.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission activist network gave a higher estimate of 50 bodies, saying “their heads were cut and disfigured to the point that it was no longer possible to identify” them.

The video posted online by activists showed the bodies of three young boys with their throats slit open and hands bound behind their backs. Their bodies were discovered on Monday in Jubar.

The authenticity of the footage could not be verified.

The Observatory also reported the killing of the boys, who activists said were kidnapped the day before at a checkpoint on their way home from school.

In central Syria, the army shelled the town of Halfaya in Hama Province, where an airstrike on a bakery last week killed 60 people, and Houla in Homs Province, where pro-regime militiamen are suspected of killing more than 100 people in May in another major massacre.

The Observatory said nearly 90 percent of the 45,000 people killed in the conflict died last year, putting last year’s year’s toll at 39,362 people, mostly civilians.

The uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring, but escalated into an armed rebellion following a brutal government crackdown.

The sharp increase in the death toll came in the face of an escalating resort to air power by al-Assad’s government against densely populated areas, the Observatory said.

Although rebels now hold vast swathes of territory in both the northeast and the northwest, the government has so far stood firm.

“The government is working to support the national reconciliation project and will respond to any regional or international initiative that would solve the current crisis through dialogue and peaceful means and prevent foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs,” Halaqi told parliament.

He said that the revolt against al-Assad’s rule must be resolved only by the Syrian people, “without external pressures or decrees,” adding that the country was “moving toward a historic moment when it will declare victory over its enemies, with the goal of positioning Syria to build a new world order that promotes national sovereignty and the concept of international law.”