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Syria: new death penalty law is 'another brutal tool' as killings soar

A new law introduced this week imposing the death penalty on anyone arming “terrorists” is only likely to worsen the bloodshed in Syria, Amnesty International warned today, as the number of people killed this week soared.

The official SANA news agency said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had signed into effect a law providing for “the death penalty for anyone providing weapons or helping to provide weapons intended for the carrying out of terrorist acts”. 
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Interim Director Philip Luther said:

“The law could have serious consequences as the Syrian authorities claim that anti-government protests are the work of ‘armed terrorists’.

“The Syrian authorities must immediately repeal this law, which represents yet another brutal tool in their arsenal of repression.”

In one of the deadliest weeks since pro-reform protests began, some 170 people - including around 70 army defectors - were reported to have been killed when government forces attacked the village of Kafr Awaid in the north-western province of Idlib. Dozens of Syrian military personnel are also reported to have been killed.

It is believed that some of those killed had previously been detained. Video footage obtained by Amnesty and believed to be of the bodies of those killed, shows some of them with their hands bound.

An eyewitness speaking to Amnesty described seeing the bodies of what he estimated to be around 100 residents following shelling in the western part of Kafr Awaid on Tuesday. He said they had fled their homes out of fear of arrest in their homes.

“Forty of those killed were fellow activists and close friends of mine,” the man told Amnesty. “The sight of those dead bodies was unimaginable. I ask myself why they died and I didn't. The raids continue in Idlib today and we are begging for help,” he said. Around 40 of the army defectors, the eyewitness said, had been hiding from security forces in a farm in the village and were gunned down on the spot. Their bodies were removed by security forces.

Thousands of other people have been arrested since pro-reform protests began in Syria in mid-March, with many held incommunicado at unknown locations in which torture and other ill-treatment are reported to be rife. Amnesty has received the names of over 200 individuals who are reported to have died in custody in Syria since April.

In a sign of growing international opposition to the bloodshed in Syria, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Monday to condemn human rights violations by Al-Assad’s government and called for an immediate end to violence. Meanwhile, consultations are expected to resume today on a new draft resolution on Syria before the UN Security Council.

Since April this year, Amnesty has called for the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Syria and an assets freeze on President Bashar al-Assad and others involved in ordering or perpetrating serious human rights abuses.

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