08/16/2012, 00.00
SYRIA

UN condemns army and rebels for war crimes against the Syrian people

Army and paramilitary militias are responsible for the Houla massacre where over 100 civilians were killed. Less serious charges against the rebels. The document, however, presents serious shortcomings because investigations were hampered. Muslim countries expel Syria from Organisation for Islamic (OIC). Catholics consecrate the country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The UN has convicted the Syrian army and rebels of war crimes. According to the report signed by 47 members of the Council for Human Rights, the military and the "shabbiha" guerrillas are responsible for the Houla massacre (Hama) which killed 100 people and other atrocities against civilians, including the bombing of a hospital in Aleppo. Its condemnation of the rebels however, was water down.  They are charged with committing crimes, but to a "lesser extent" and "less frequently" than the soldiers of the regime. The document covers the period from 15 February to 20 July  and is based on 1062 field interviews with Syrian people and refugees who have fled abroad. The data is however scarce and unreliable, in part because of the difficulty in gathering information on the field, hampered by the army and rebels.

The commission of investigation was led by Brazilian diplomat Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, and Karen Koning Abu Zayd, a U.S. citizen and former head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees. New evidence of the army's responsibility for the Houla massacre last May 25 has emerged from the report. The two diplomats emphasize that the data reinforces the position of the international community which for months has been demanding tougher action against the Syrian regime for crimes against humanity. "Both sides are guilty of war crimes - said AbuZayd - but most of the killing is the work of the Assad government." The diplomat notes that in recent months the regime has developed a genuine policy of war against his own people. The operations are increasingly large-scale and involve soldiers and police.

The escalation of violence is compounded by the progressive isolation of the regime of Bashar al-Assad by Western and Arab countries and by the refusal of the rebels to come to terms with the government. The UN report on war crimes has led the Arab states to expel Syria from Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The decision was announced today at the end of the summit with a statement of the 57 OIC members in Mecca (Saudi Arabia). The expulsion was criticized by Iran, Assad's main ally, who accused those present of violating the Charter of the Organisation. In fact, no Syrian delegate was present during the vote. Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, said that "cooperation would be more logical a suspension, the OIC must help the government and opposition to conduct negotiations to end the crisis."

Despite the efforts for a cease-fire achieved in recent months by Kofi Annan, former UN and Arab League special envoy, and the pope's repeated appeals for peace, the conflict between the army and rebels continues unabated. Yesterday, a violent blast struck a military barracks near the hotel housing the UN observers in Damascus. State media said the attack was the work of Free Syrian Army, which wants to undermine the regime during the visit of Valerie Amos, head of the UN Commission for Human Rights. After several weeks of relative calm, gun battles were reported in several districts of the capital, including that of Mezzeh, home to the Prime Minister's headquarters. Instead of the regime's offensive in Aleppo continues.  The army has retaken northern districts of the city until now controlled by rebels. 18 civilians were killed in the operation.

Yesterday, on the Feast of the Assumption, Msgr. Samir Nassar, Maronite archbishop of Damascus, Syria consecrated the nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The consecration took place in the cathedral on behalf of all Catholic Syrian bishops and faithful.

 

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