Syria’s suffering is still the main story
The Olympics have come and gone. The Pussy Riot trial, in all of its shabbiness, has taken place. And hundreds of other big stories have emerged and then faded … but all the while the horror in Syria has continued, day by terrible day.
To be honest, it’s hard to know where to start when blogging on Syria now. Do you talk about the punishing battle for Aleppo? The terrifying new assault on parts of Damascus? Or the sinister arrest-cum-disappearance of people like Salah al-Shogre, a 17-year-old Syrian boy taken away by the Syrian authorities in the town of Banias on 28 July and not seen since? (Is he being tortured right now, along with his older brother Anas?)
Or do you focus on the lacklustre diplomatic situation, where UN Security Council serial blockers Russia and China have apparently dug in for the duration and appear oblivious to the carnage on the ground in Syria? (Or do you clutch at straws, fastening on to the Syrian deputy PM Qadri Jamil’s recent remarks about President’s Assad’s resignation not being off the table in future peace negotiations?).
Yet another focus could be the very worrying “overspill” fighting in Lebanon. It’s long been a kind of international relations cliché to warn that situations like Syria could turn into a “new Lebanon” (ie a decades-long nightmare of sectarian, ethnic and clan-based militias killing each other and thousands of civilians, complete with kidnappings, massacres, suicide bombings and the proxy involvement of neighbouring countries). In fact, in a macabrely ironic twist, there’s now a new danger that Lebanon itself could be heading for some kind of Syrian-style meltdown, as fighting between Sunni Muslim and Alawites in northern Lebanon escalates.
Actually, though, I’ll just say a few words about Aleppo - Syria’s biggest city and one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. Tragically it’s now the scene of the country’s most intense fighting. Amnesty’s new report on the city (based on fresh, first-hand research) paints a grim picture. Check out the video embedded with this post but, to summarise, the report documents how Syrian government forces have:
Used airstrikes, artillery and mortars in a totally reckless and indiscriminate fashion in civilian areas:
Example - During the afternoon of 6 August, in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr district, an airstrike killed seven members of the Qrea’a family, when their building was bombed. ‘Abdellatif Qrea’a, a 43-year-old IT engineer, and his 37-year-old wife Wahiba, were killed with their daughter Bara’ (10) and their sons Hatem (16) and Mahmud (17). The children’s cousins, Taghreed, an eight-year-old girl, and 18-month-old boy called Yussef, were also killed and their parents injured. Meanwhile, ‘Abdellatif and Wahiba’s 14-year-old daughter lost one eye and sustained other serious injuries. It took three days to find the body of one of the children - the bomb blast had blown the body into a neighbouring building. A neighbour said: “We found limbs which had been severed from the bodies of the victims. The children’s mother was cut in half.”
Conducted Bosnia-style attacks on bread queues:
Example - “The children were waiting to buy bread for Suhur. My daughter’s body was found next to the body of a woman from the neighbourhood. They were both struck in the head and were killed instantly. My boy was also struck in the head and died immediately. This was the first time that there was an attack in this area. Nothing has ever happened here. We have no FSA here, no fighting. Why such attacks which kill innocent people?” - the children’s father, talking about Kifa’ Samra (13) and her brother Zakarya (11), killed in Aleppo’s Sheikh Sa’id district on 11 August.
Carried out targeted murders of civilians by government forces:
Example - Saad al-Din Rihawi, a teacher, and two of his sons, Mahmud (20) and Mazen (18), were taken away from their home in the al-Zahra district (in north-west Aleppo, an area dominated by Syria’s notorious Air Force Intelligence). The following day their bodies - along with two other burned bodies - were found nearby in the family car. Their hands were tied behind their backs. They’d all been shot in the head. Friends said they’d been active in anti-government protests movement and had recently been involved in solidarity and relief work, volunteering at schools sheltering people displaced by the conflict.
These examples are matched by numerous others.
Meanwhile the Amnesty report is also warning that opposition fighters have themselves been killing prisoners - the Berri clan video the best-known apparent instance of this. (The new video of an armed opposition group apparently manipulating their prisoner into acting as an unwitting suicide bomber is yet another depressing twist). Overall I think you have to conclude that the situation in Aleppo - and Syria more generally - is still deteriorating. And after the recent death of the Japanese journalist Mika Yamamota (and the reported killing yesterday of the Syrian journalist Mosaab al-Odaallah) another worry is that it’s going to be harder and harder to get reliable, independent information out of killing zones like Aleppo.
What can be done? Well we need Lakhdar Brahimi to exert serious pressure on Russia and China to unlock the situation at the UN. It’s not likely there will be sudden road-to-Damascus-style conversions of either Vladimir Putin or Hu Jintao over the Syria crisis, but the hope is that both leaders will begin to accept that the frightening death toll can’t be allowed to continue.
Meanwhile, for human rights groups the big challenge is the “document-to-bring-to-justice” one. That work will go on. Check out this post for how you can help.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.