x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Both sides in Syria guilty of crimes, says the UN

The findings were released in Geneva by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which said the conflict has become "increasingly militarised."

Hundreds of mourners attend the funeral procession of victims killed by violence in Dael in the southern province of Deraa.
Hundreds of mourners attend the funeral procession of victims killed by violence in Dael in the southern province of Deraa.

BEIRUT // The Syrian regime and an increasingly organised rebel force are carrying out illegal killings and torturing their opponents - but government forces are still responsible for most of the violence stemming from the country's uprising, a UN panel said yesterday.

The findings were released in Geneva by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which said the conflict has become "increasingly militarised."

The report is based on hundreds of interviews since March with victims and witnesses who fled the country.

"Fighters in anti-government armed groups were killed after being captured or wounded," the report said. "In some particularly grave instances, entire families were executed in their homes - usually the family members of those opposing the government."

Children, including boys as young as 10, have said they were "tortured to admit that older male members of their family are Free Syrian Army soldiers or supporters," the report said. The Free Syrian Army is the rebel force trying to topple the government.

The UN panel also said that there is a growing list of abuses being committed by anti-government armed groups, including executions of military forces and suspected informers.

Anti-government armed groups have increasingly resorted to roadside bombs, according to the report, and have abducted civilians and government forces, apparently for prisoner exchanges or ransom.

Despite the country's spiralling violence, President Bashar Al Assad said yesterday that Syria would emerge from the crisis "thanks to the steadfastness of its people".

The Syrian government denies that the 15-month-old revolt is being driven by a popular uprising, instead blaming terrorists for the violence.

The opposition denies that, saying they were forced to take up arms after government forces fired on peaceful protesters.

A string of suicide attacks this year has raised fears among some observers that extremists are trying to exploit the chaos in Syria.

More than 250 UN observers are now based in cities around the country to monitor a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan - but the ceasefire is violated every day by both sides.

Opposition groups said that government forces shelled the rebel-held town of Rastan yesterday, killing at least three people.

Also yesterday, the state-run news agency said an armed group assassinated a lieutenant, shooting him and his 13-year-old son outside Damascus.

The violence in Syria has also spilled over into Lebanon, where deadly clashes linked to the conflict have killed at least 10 people in the past two weeks.

Lebanese and Syrian officials have said armed gunmen in Syria kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims on Tuesday, setting off protests in Beirut's Shiite-dominated southern suburbs. The US Embassy in Beirut yesterday condemned the kidnapping and called for the men's immediate release.

Syria's main opposition council, meanwhile, said it has accepted the resignation of its Paris-based president, who earlier offered to step down amid mounting criticism of his leadership.

The executive committee of the Syrian National Council asked Burhan Ghalioun to pursue his duties until a new president is elected during a meeting on June 9 and 10.

The SNC has been plagued by infighting and divisions since its inception in September, complicating western efforts to bolster the opposition.

Meanwhile, Syria's oil minister has blamed international sanctions for shortages of gas and other basic goods, saying the measures have bled US$4 billion (Dh14.6bn) from the nation's economy.

Sufian Allaw said on Wednesday that the measures were to blame for the shortages that have left Syrians across the country standing in long lines to pay inflated prices for gas, fuel, sugar and other staples.

The US ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, denied that the sanctions are to blame. "Our sanctions purposefully do not target oil and diesel imports, because we know that the Syrian people need both for their day-to-day lives," he wrote on the embassy's Facebook page.