Syria’s UN human rights envoy defects in Geneva

Updated 15 August 2012
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Syria’s UN human rights envoy defects in Geneva

GENEVA, Switzerland: In another blow to the Assad regime, Syria’s top representative at the UN Human Rights Council said Monday he had defected because he no longer felt able in that position to do anything for the Syrian people.
“Basically, when I felt I could not help my people any more I had to move on,” Danny Al-Baaj, the first Syrian diplomat in Switzerland to abandon Bashar Assad’s regime, told AFP.
“When I was involved in any negotiations (on Syria) my concern was to protect the country not the government,” he added.
Al-Baaj's move comes a week after Syria's Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected along with other top officials and military commanders.
Thousands of military officers have also switched sides over the past months, many of them fleeing to Turkey before returning to Syria to join rebel forces.
Baaj said he took his decision a long time ago and had been in contact with Syrian opposition group the Democratic Forum based in Paris.
He had been in Geneva for two years and met the opposition group “some time ago,” before announcing his resignation last Friday, he said.
“I met the charge d’affaires (of Syria in Geneva) and I told him I had made my decision that I was going to the opposition... He said it was my choice and he wished me luck.”
Speaking from Geneva where he is considering his next move, Baaj described the Democratic Forum as one of the main opposition groups. It is headed by Michel Kilo, a long-time opponent of the regime.
The development comes ahead of the release on Wednesday of an official UNHRC independent commission of inquiry report into Syria.
Baaj said he “hoped” the Geneva-based body would make progress toward consensus on the situation in Syria despite many countries letting their own agendas interfere with finding a solution.
“At the last session the HRC was very close to reaching consensus ... I hope different countries put aside their agendas to help the Syrian people,” he said.
Baaj also stressed his opposition to outside military intervention in the conflict but supported the role of the UN’s Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), calling it “a good thing.”
“I hope it stays there. It’s very important to document abuses by both sides,” he said.

Violence increasing
In Damascus, the head of the United Nations monitors in Syria said violence was intensifying across the country, blaming both Assad’s forces and rebel fighters for ignoring the plight of civilians.
“It is clear that violence is increasing in many parts of Syria,” Gen. Babacar Gaye, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, told journalists in Damascus.
“The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by the government and targeted attacks by the opposition in urban centers are inflicting a heavy toll on innocent civilians.
“I deeply regret that none of the parties has prioritised the needs of civilians.”
Activists say more than 18,000 people, including soldiers, rebels and civilians, have been killed since the start of the Syrian uprising against Assad in March last year.
Assad’s forces are battling to regain control of the biggest city, Aleppo, from rebel fighters who went on the offensive last month, seizing districts of the capital and the northern commercial hub, as well as several border crossings.
Free Syrian Army rebels also control towns and villages in a wide swathe of territory near the northern border with Turkey.
Assad’s forces have hit back, regaining much of Damascus and bombarding opposition strongholds in and around the capital. Residents reported overnight shelling from the Qassioun mountains overlooking north Damascus into Jobar neighborhood.
Activists also reported shelling in the northern Damascus suburb of Tell, which they say has been under rebel control for two weeks, and in Muadamiya suburb, where they said four men had been found executed after troops pulled out.
State television said the army was battling rebels in the city of Homs and had attacked “terrorist lairs” in the town of Talbiseh to the north.
The mandate for the UN monitors, whose original mission was to observe an April cease-fire that never took hold, expires on Aug. 19. Their numbers have already been cut to a third because violence has made it impossible for them to move around.
“But the remaining 100 observers, along with our civilian colleagues, will operate till the last minute,” Gaye said.
“I call on the parties to cease military operations and come to the (negotiating) table,” he said, adding that he and his colleagues had delivered the same appeal in person to the government and the Syrian opposition abroad.

 


Syria’s Druze minority: walking a war-time tightrope

Updated 13 min 5 sec ago
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Syria’s Druze minority: walking a war-time tightrope

  • Daesh began attacking Sweida province in 2015, first targeting Khalkhalah military airport
  • Syria’s Druze have protected their heartland in Sweida with their own forces

BEIRUT: Syria’s Druze minority, whose men are being called up for military service by Damascus, is struggling to insulate itself from the conflict that has engulfed the country since 2011.
Here is a summary of the community’s profile, its role in Syria’s conflict and the attacks it has faced.

The Druze community accounted for around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million.
They are located mainly in the southern province of Sweida with smaller pockets around Damascus and in the northwest, although some have fled militant-held parts of the latter area.
Druze are monotheistic and considered Muslim, but the sect is otherwise highly secretive, includes mystical elements such as reincarnation, and does not allow new converts.
Some 200,000 Druze are located in neighboring Lebanon and over 100,000 are in Israel, while 18,000 live in the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Syria’s Druze have been split by the uprising that erupted in 2011 against President Bashar Assad, who had long portrayed himself as a protector of the country’s minorities.
Druze should not be seen “as being neutral in this war — it’s more multifaceted and the Druze are not a monolithic bloc,” said Tobias Lang, an analyst focused on Druze populations in the Middle East.
One of the first soldiers to defect from Syria’s army in protest at its handling of demonstrations was Druze officer Khaldun Zeineddine, who later died in clashes against regime forces.
Others remained firmly loyal, like General Issam Zahreddine, one of the highest-ranking Druze army officers who died last year in a mine blast after battling the Daesh group in Syria’s east.
Druze leaders have often tried to maintain a relationship with the regime to keep their areas autonomous and spare them from government attacks.
One symbol of that complex relationship was Wahid Al-Balous, a Druze religious authority who pushed for the sect’s soldiers to be deployed near their hometowns, rather than in other provinces.
Balous, who died in a car bomb attack in Sweida in 2015, spoke out against both militants and Assad.

Syria’s Druze have protected their heartland in Sweida with their own forces.
The most powerful has been the Sheikhs of Dignity, which was headed by Balous and included fighters and other religious figures.
Sheikhs of Dignity has fought fierce battles against the Daesh group and Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.
Other militias have been closely linked to the regime, including the Dareh Al-Watan (Shield of the Nation), a Druze force founded in April 2015 with 2,000 fighters.
Such groups appear to have protected Sweida’s sons from compulsory military service, with authorities turning a blind eye so long as young men fight in units not opposed to the regime.
But with the regime hungry for fresh conscripts, that deal appears to be coming apart at the seams and Assad has now called on young Druze men to serve.
His appeal came after Damascus announced the release this month of Druze women and children who had been kidnapped during a July attack by Daesh.

That onslaught by the militants left more than 260 people dead, mostly civilians. It was the worst attack against the minority so far but not the first.
A car bomb in 2012 ripped through Damascus’ Jaramana suburb, which is mostly Druze and Christian.
In 2013 and 2014, fierce fighting between Syrian rebels and pro-regime Druze forces rocked Sweida province and Druze areas closer to Damascus.
Daesh began attacking Sweida province in 2015, first targeting Khalkhalah military airport.
The same year, 20 Druze Syrians were killed in a shoot-out with Al-Qaeda militants in the village of Qalb Lawzah in northwestern Idlib province.
Druze residents of Qalb Lawzah had come out against the regime a year into Syria’s uprising.
In 2016, Daesh beheaded four laborers in an area it controlled outside Damascus, accusing them of being Druze.
And in 2017, a car bomb killed nine people in Hader, a regime-held village in the southwestern province of Quneitra mostly populated by Druze.