Rights watchdog slams Syrian military

INDISCRIMINATE::While the military has always denied targeting civilians, a US-based group said the use of wide-ranging lethal missiles was devastating non-combatants


Tue, Aug 06, 2013 - Page 7

The Syrian military is firing ballistic missiles into populated areas where it is battling rebels, killing hundreds of civilians in recent months, Human Rights Watch said in a report yesterday.

The US-based group said it has investigated nine apparent missile attacks that killed at least 215 people, half of them children, between February and last month.

The most recent attack the group investigated occurred in the northern province of Aleppo on July 26, killing at least 33 civilians including 17 children.

Activists from the group visited the sites of seven of the nine attacks and found no apparent military targets nearby, the group said.

Ole Solvang, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher, said it is impossible to distinguish between civilians and fighters when firing missiles with wide-ranging destructive effects into densely populated areas.

“Even if there are fighters in the area, you cannot accurately target them and the impact in some of these cases has been devastating to local civilians,” Solvang said in a statement.

The group called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop indiscriminate attacks.

Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Syrian military has repeatedly denied it is targeting civilians during the two-year conflict, saying its troops are fighting “terrorists” hiding in civilian areas.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict started in March 2011 as largely peaceful protests against al-Assad’s rule.

It turned into an armed uprising after opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown on dissent.

The al-Assad government claims it is not facing a popular revolt, but a conspiracy by Gulf Arab states and the West seeking to destroy Syria by supplying Islamic extremists with weapons and funds.

In his most recent public appearance late on Sunday, al-Assad called on the Syrian people to unite behind the army’s efforts to “defend their homeland.”

“There is no solution with terrorism but to strike with an iron fist,” as-Assad was quoted as saying by state news agency SANA.

In a rare speech on Syrian state television, al-Assad also dismissed the political opposition to his regime as a “failure” that could play no role in solving the country’s brutal war.

“I don’t think that any sane human being would think that terrorism can be dealt with via politics,” he added.

He meanwhile stressed the need to fight on against the rebellion.

“It is true that there is a battle being fought in the media and on [the Internet], but the crisis will only be solved on the battlefield,” al-Assad said in his 45-minute address.

He also said that any efforts toward a political solution should be combined with continued military operations.

“There cannot be any political efforts or political progress if terror is striking everywhere. Therefore terror must be struck in order to get the political process moving on the right track,” al-Assad said.

“That does not mean that there cannot be parallel tracks. There is no reason why we shouldn’t strike terror while at the same time working politically,” he added.

Additional reporting by AFP