HRW: Syrian government demolishing towns to punish rebels
The complete demolition of the Masha' al-Arb'een neighborhood in Hama. (Image courtesy of Human Rights Watch)
The Syrian government has razed seven residential districts for no apparent military reason but to punish civilians who had vaguely affiliated themselves with rebels, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
In a report released Thursday, the New York based rights group published a series of before-and-after satellite images of the towns they say have been destroyed, along with testimonies from witnesses, Reuters news agency reported.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) say that the Syrian government has systematically and unlawfully demolished thousands of residential buildings since July 2012. The group estimates that the total area of land destroyed by the Syrian regime stands at 360 acres, the equivalent of 200 soccer fields, and added that many of the buildings were apartment blocks up to eight storeys high, Reuters reported.
HRW named the demolished districts as Masha'a Al Arbaeen and Wadi Al Jouz in the central city of Hama, and Qaboun, Al Tadamon, Barzeh, Harran Al Awamid and Mezze airport in and around the capital, Damascus, according to Reuters.
The Syrian government could not be reached for comment, Reuters and Agence France Presse both reported.
The rights group quotes Syrian officials and pro-regime media as saying the demolitions were conducted in a bid to “remove buildings constructed without the necessary permits or as part of urban planning efforts,” Reuters reported.
The HRW report went on to say: "the context and circumstances" of the districts’ destruction indicated that it was actually intended to “punish” civilians living in areas that used to house opposition and rebel fighters, according to Reuters.
The report added that the demolitions often occurred after regime forces had flushed an area of rebels, and in some cases the districts may have been close to military bases and strategic locations that the Syrian authorities may have been justified in protecting.
The destruction of the areas violates international laws of war that forbid combatants from targeting civilians, the report said, adding that the Syrian government should be held accountable for their actions, Reuters said.
"No one should be fooled by the government's claim that it is undertaking urban planning in the middle of a bloody conflict," said Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch researcher, according to Reuters.
"This was collective punishment of communities suspected of supporting the rebellion."
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