Rights Group: Syria Indiscriminately Shelling Neighborhoods

Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

An inside look at the horrific assault on the Syrian city of Homs by the Syrian regime was released on Thursday by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which cited testimony that Syrian forces are shelling populated neighborhoods. In addition, the HRW press release also listed incidents in which people trying to help the wounded were fired upon as the death toll has mounted in the city.

Homs has been a centerpiece to the popular uprising against the dictatorship of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and witnesses in the HRW report said some neighborhoods are held by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a militant opposition group. Assad is accused of killing thousands of his own people in the 11 months since popular protests against his rule first emerged, but Anna Neistat, associate emergencies director at HRW, said the recent veto by China and Russia of United Nations action on the situation is encouraging the latest bloodletting.

“It is clear the Syrian government has interpreted the Russia-China veto as a carte blanche to launch an all-out assault on cities like Homs without caring who’s killed in the process,” Neistat was quoted as saying in the HRW press release. “Russia and China now have a particular responsibility to force the Syrian government to end its onslaught. If they can’t do that, they should stop obstructing [UN] Security Council action.”

HRW said they have eight witnesses who claim Syrian forces have launched into neighborhoods hundreds of “shells and mortars.” The HRW release said they were able to confirm, through review of video and photos along with journalist testimony, that “government forces launched long-range indirect fire attacks into densely populated areas.”

The Free Syrian Army does have anywhere from hundreds to 2,000 members in Homs, and they have taken several neighborhoods and launched attacks on Syrian forces, according to witnesses cited by HRW. Nonetheless, the HRW later noted that “indiscriminate shelling of populated areas which results in multiple civilian casualties constitutes a serious human rights violation.”

In addition, HRW cited testimony of attacks by officers in a helicopter in which automatic weapons were used on civilians.

Making matters worse, HRW also cited attacks on those trying to rescue the wounded, as well as at least three field hospitals hit by the shelling and declining medical supplies due to the regime’s siege of the city.

“Karim,” one witness quoted by HRW, said on February 4, “I just came from the field hospital. There are three large rooms full of corpses. I’ve seen over 100 corpses today. Injured people are dying because we cannot treat them. There are still people in the street who are injured… We cannot pull them in because of the shooting. They will die in the street.”

It is unclear exactly how many have been killed in the latest siege of Homs, although Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a Syrian monitoring group, was one of the sources cited by the HRW report as claiming 288 were killed from February 3 to 8 alone.

“This brutal assault on residential neighborhoods shows the Syrian authorities’ contempt for the lives of their citizens in Homs,” said HRW’s Neistat. “Those responsible for such horrific attacks will have to answer for them.”

(By Staff, www.themideastupdate.com, February 9, 2012)