Last Wednesday, Syria agreed to an Arab League plan to put an end to seven months of violent crackdown against protesters calling for democratic reforms. The next day, 25 people were killed in Syria and, the day after that, at least 15; a total of 104 have been killed since last week. Friday has become the day for antigovernment protests in Syria; this Friday at least 20 people were killed across the country. Among those killed was an 8-year-old girl in Homs, says Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as well as a soldier who had defected.
Under the deal, President Bashar al-Assad had promised to withdraw all security forces and military vehicles and to stop the killing of protesters. Syria has said that it is adhering to the terms of the Arab League deal and that it has released 550 political detainees and offered amnesty to those with weapons.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is now urging the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership and to request that the UN Security Council call for an arms embargo and sanctions against responsible individuals. In a recently issued 63-page report, HRW accuses Syria of crimes against humanity, specifically citing the “systematic nature of abuses against civilians in Homs by Syrian government forces.” At least 587 people have been killed in Homs by government forces from mid-April to the end of August; at least 3,500 people have killed since the uprising began in the southern city of Daraa in mid-March.
The report also says that Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court. Former detainees have said they have been tortured with heated metal rods, electric shocks and stress positions.
The Arab League is holding an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday at which its members will discuss suspending Syria’s membership and imposing economic sanctions, moves that would further isolate Syria. While Qatar has called for the Arab League to take a more aggressive stance towards Syria, Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon and Sudan are opposed to any further action. Saudi Arabia has also urged more caution. Eiad Shurbaji, an opposition figure reached in Damascus, was skeptical about the Arab League’s increased pressure on Syria having an effect.
Egypt’s newspaper Ahram reports that Syrian activists are planning to hold a mock funeral outside the Arab League’s Cairo headquarters, to highlight its ineffectual response to the Syrian crisis. Supporters of anti-government protesters in Syria are urged to participate in a Syria Sit-in on YouTube by filming themselves expressing support for the protesters and opposition to the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown and sending the clip to SyrianHub@gmail.com. Below is Iceland politician Birgitta Jonsdottir expressing her support for Syrians.
The HRW report emphasizes that protesters in Syria have for the most part been unarmed, and that defectors from government forces have intervened on behalf of civilians only when they have been attacked by fire from regime troops. Indeed, the HRW report underscores that it has been the government’s strategy to provoke the opposition into an armed conflict. The international community needs to take a more active stance about Syria and “ensure an immediate cessation of lethal force lest the country slip into bloodier conflict.”
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Photo of Syrians protesting the Arab League in Cairo in October by S a l e e m - H o m s i