Assad regime responsible for crimes against humanity in Ghouta: UN

Pro-regime forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave between February and April this year. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 June 2018
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Assad regime responsible for crimes against humanity in Ghouta: UN

  • The investigators slammed the widespread use of sieges throughout Syria’s seven-year conflict, which has killed more than 350,000 people
  • The UN’s Syria commission, set up in 2011 shortly after the civil war began, has repeatedly accused the warring parties of crimes

GENEVA: Forces loyal to Syrian regime committed what amounted to crimes against humanity, including deliberately starving civilians, during the siege of Eastern Ghouta, UN investigators said Wednesday.The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the opposition enclave.
“Following the end of the longest running siege in modern history... the UN Commission of Inquiry (for human rights in Syria) has condemned this method of warfare in Syria as barbaric,” the UN investigators said in a statement.
The COI, tasked by the UN Human Rights Council in March to urgently investigate recent events in Eastern Ghouta, released a 23-page report filled with horrific details of civilian suffering.
“It is completely abhorrent that besieged civilians were indiscriminately attacked, and systematically denied food and medicine,” commission head Paulo Pinheiro said in the statement.
As pro-regime forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave between February and April this year, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
It described thousands of desperate people holed up for months in squalid basements with dwindling food rations and few if any sanitation facilities, as bombs and missiles rained down.
The report concluded that “certain acts perpetrated by pro-Government forces during the siege laid to Eastern Ghouta, including the deliberate starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare, amount to the crime against humanity of inhumane acts causing serious mental and physical suffering.”
The investigators slammed the widespread use of sieges throughout Syria’s seven-year conflict, which has killed more than 350,000 people.
“Hundreds of thousands of Syrian women, men and children countrywide have suffered for too long the perverse and long-lasting effects of this medieval form of warfare,” the report said.
The UN’s Syria commission, set up in 2011 shortly after the civil war began, has repeatedly accused the warring parties of crimes.
In Wednesday’s report, the commission also faulted armed opposition groups like Jaysh Al-Islam, Ahrar Al-Sham and Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham for committing “war crimes” by launching “indiscriminate attacks” on Damascus, and killing and maiming hundreds of civilians.
“Through the entire duration of the siege, armed groups also regularly arbitrarily arrested and tortured civilians in Douma, including members of religious minority groups, repeatedly committing the war crimes of cruel treatment and torture, and outrages upon personal dignity,” the report said.
The investigators, who have never been granted access to Syria, said they based their findings for their latest report on some 140 interviews conducted in person in the region and from Geneva.
They also said they analyzed photographs, video recordings, satellite imagery, and medical records, as well as reports from government and non-government sources.
The report noted that by the time regime forces declared Eastern Ghouta recaptured on April 14, around 140,000 people had been displaced from their homes.
Tens of thousands of them are still being unlawfully interned by regime forces in managed sites throughout the Damascus region, the report said.
Following local “evacuation agreements,” up to 50,000 civilians from Eastern Ghouta were displaced to Idlib and Aleppo governorates, it said.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.