Middle East

Opposition dismisses Assad prisoner amnesty

Syrian National Coalition President Mouaz al-Khatib attends a meeting in Istanbul March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

BEIRUT: President Bashar Assad issued a new amnesty Tuesday, a move criticized by the opposition for being a meaningless attempt at appeasement.

The amnesty, which follows several other recent pardons, commutes a death sentence to a life of hard labor and reduces punishments for several other crimes, but “crimes of treason, espionage and terrorism were excluded from the amnesty,” state media reported.

Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the opposition National Coalition, said on Facebook that before any amnesty could be meaningful, “we require the release of over 160,000 innocent prisoners, primarily women and children. If that happens, then we will say that the amnesty was a token to a real Syrian solution.

He added, “Release all women and children, I repeat, release all women and children. This should occur within the next few days.”

Last month Khatib formally resigned from his post, but he has yet to provide further comment on this move.

Human rights groups have reported widespread abuse of prison detainees, and there are thought to be tens of thousands of “enforced disappearances” of prisoners. The Syrian Network for Human Rights Monday reported that there have been at least 2,300 deaths under torture of prisoners across Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011.

The decree comes ahead of Independence Day Wednesday, which marks the end of the French Mandate over Syria in 1946.

Across the country Tuesday, government airplanes continued to shell the outskirts of Damascus, Homs, Idlib, Aleppo, Deraa and rebel-held Raqqa, according to activists.

By midday, 23 people had been killed across the country, according to the Local Coordination Committee, an activists network, including four members of the same family who died at their home in Raqqa after shelling.

In the Damascus suburb of Baramkeh, several were wounded when an explosion occurred outside the Farameh bakery, the LCC added. According to state media, a car bomb, planted by a “terrorist group” damaged other cars in the area but caused no injuries.

Overnight Monday, clashes occurred between regular and regime forces near an airforce intelligence base on the crucial Damascus-Deraa highway.

Over recent weeks, rebels have begun to secure more of this vital southern region, which will be essential if the opposition have any chance of breaking the regime’s control over Damascus.

Late Monday, the National Coalition urged the Lebanese government to secure its borders with Syria, blaming Hezbollah for instigating strife and forcing the opposition to retaliate.

On Sunday, two Lebanese were killed by rockets in the border area of Hermel.

“Hezbollah deployed forces in some border villages and took control of those areas,” the statement said, adding that, “The Free Syrian Army was forced to respond to these repeated aggressions. These outbreaks of violent clashes between Hezbollah guerillas and FSA forces have put civilians living in those border areas at significant risk.”

“We believe that negotiations can help end these violations and save innocent civilians in the area from falling victim to the violence caused by these aggressions,” it added.

Late Monday, the heads of five U.N. agencies urged international actors to step up their commitment to Syria, and warned that they were close to suspending their operations within the country, due to a lack of resources.

After such widespread destruction and bloodshed, they said, “there still seems an insufficient sense of urgency among the governments and parties that could put a stop to the cruelty and carnage in Syria.”

Signed by U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, executive director of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, executive director of the UN Children's Fund Anthony Lake and director-general of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan, the statement added, “We are precariously close, perhaps within weeks, to suspending some humanitarian support.”

But, it added, “Our appeal today is not for more resources, needed as they are. We are appealing for something more important than funds. To all involved in this brutal conflict and to all governments that can influence them: In the name of all those who have so suffered, and the many more whose futures hang in the balance: Enough! Summon and use your influence, now, to save the Syrian people and save the region from disaster.” - With agencies





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