06/17/2013, 00.00
SYRIA
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Massacres by Islamic extremists bolster Bashar al-Assad

Ignored for months by Western media, massacres by Islamist brigades have appeared on pro-rebel media with reports on summary executions, Islamic courts and the mass killing of Shias, justified in the name of the hatred against Assad. However, in al Qusair and Aleppo, residents have welcomed the return of the regular army.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - Summary executions, people sentenced for blasphemy and the expulsion of Christians and Shias from their homes are but some of the actions taken by the courts of the "Caliphate of Iraq and the Levant", the name the al-Nusra Brigade and other Islamist rebels use in relations to the Syrian territory under their rule.

In different parts of Aleppo, in the towns of al-Bab and Idlib and other villages under the control of Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda, sharia has been enforced for the past year. Islamic justice is not an improvised game but the work of well-organised courts, with sentences passed daily and indiscriminately against Sunnis, Christians, Alawis and other Shias who do not conform to Wahhabi Islam.

In Aleppo's neighbourhood of al-Shaar, the al Nusra Brigade executed a 14-year-old boy for insulting the prophet. Last Wednesday, the Sadeq al-Amin Brigade stormed the predominantly Shia village of Hatla in Deir Ezzor province.

A video posted by Islamists on Youtube, almost all foreigners with a North African accent, shows the fighters after a mission. In it, the men are seen showing off the bodies of those they killed, mocking them, calling them "dogs" loyal to Assad, saying that they would kill anyone opposed to Islam.

On Thursday, the body of a man was found with shots in the head and neck by a mosque in al-Bab (Aleppo Governatorate). Residents reported that the man had been taken into custody several months earlier by the city's Sharia Council on charges of theft.

Most information about these massacres and about the violence perpetrated by the regime comes from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), an organisation set up by Syrian rebels in exile.

For nearly two years, SOHR has reported only acts of violence by the regime against the rebels. Mainstream international media like the BBC, al-Jazeera and al-Arabya, have relied on it as their sole source of news.

In recent months, several experts and Syrians interviewed by AsiaNews accused Western and Gulf State media of selective reporting. More recently, coverage has become more impartial, but SOHR continues to defend Islamic extremists to avoid losing support among rebel forces. In the case of Hatla, the SOHT reported said that residents had sided with the regime and housed Syrian soldiers.

In an interview with AsiaNews on 28 May, Gregory III Laham, patriarch of Antioch, said that "Syria's future cannot be built on destruction. There are no winners with war."

In the past few months, indiscriminate funding of the rebellion and the continuous flow of foreign fighters has paradoxically bolstered, not weakened the regime, with Hizbollah using them as a pretext to wage war against its Sunni enemy.

Syrians, including anti-regime Muslims, have begun to criticise the presence of foreign fighters in their country and to view them as terrorists.

This is the case in Al-Qusair, one of the first cities to join the rebellion against Assad, and for months one of its stronghold, where residents bemoan the destruction of churches and mosques not aligned with radical Islam. The same is true in Aleppo where residents have welcomed the regular army in a number of neighbourhoods.

In November 2012, the Turkish newspaper Hurryiet stressed the deep cleavages within Syrian rebel forces, warning the West about the risks of armed support, recently endorsed by US President Barak Obama and the governments of France and Great Britain.

At present, some 30 recognisable militias with some 100,000 fighters operate in Syria. Of these, only three belong to the Free Syrian Army, the main interlocutor of the international community. The other 27 are linked to Al-Qaeda or belong to other Islamist or political movements.

Sources told AsiaNews "that the purpose of these groups is not only the liberation of Syria from Assad, but also the spread by force of radical Islam throughout the Middle East and the conquest of Jerusalem."

Many fighters do not even speak Arabic. Others left villages in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Indonesia without knowing the exact location of Syria.

Some villagers near Aleppo have reported that several fighters, especially the younger ones, were recruited with the false promise of going to liberate Jerusalem. (SC)

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