News / Middle East

Rights Group Details Syrian Massacre

Human Rights Watch says these Syrians were killed execution-style in the village of al-Bayda May 3, 2013. Amateur video via AP.
Human Rights Watch says these Syrians were killed execution-style in the village of al-Bayda May 3, 2013. Amateur video via AP.
Atrocities and massacres have been regular occurrences in Syria’s two-and-half year civil war, but Human Rights Watch provided details Friday about one of the worst massacres carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
 
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report documents in exacting detail the summary executions of 248 people by Syrian government forces and allied irregular units in the mainly Sunni Muslim towns of al-Bayda and Baniyas on May 2 and 3 this year. The dead included women and children, some of them infants.
 
Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Shortly after the summary executions took place, the Syrian government acknowledged that its forces had been active in the towns—Sunni enclaves in a region overwhelmingly populated by pro-Assad Alawite Muslims—but insisted they had been battling “terrorists.”
 
Syrian government officials denied that its forces had carried out a massacre of unarmed civilians, but Ali Haidar, minister of state for national reconciliation affairs, later told the Wall Street Journal that “mistakes” may have been made and that a government committee was investigating.
 
Based on eyewitness testimony of survivors who saw or heard government and pro-government forces detain and then execute their relatives, the 68-page HRW report suggests the majority of those killed, generally by three bullets to the head, were non-combatants executed several hours after firefights between the army and rebels had ended.
 
According to the survivors, government forces started to ransack and loot houses early in the afternoon, and then rounded up the men, separating them from the women and children. The men were either shot on the spot or moved to the main square and shot there. The bodies were later moved to a mobile phone store where they were partially burned, the HRW report said.
 
Surviving relatives describe killings
 
Among the dead were the four grown sons of 70-year-old Mustafa Suweid. Samira, the wife of one of the sons, said the four were forced into a next-door apartment along with a neighbor.
 
“Suddenly we heard gunshots. I started screaming to my father-in-law,” Samira told the HRW investigators. “I ran to the window and saw around 20 soldiers leave the apartment.” 
 
“I first saw my husband’s body by the door,” Samira continued. “The remaining three were in a room on top of each other. Each of the men had three bullets in him. Ahmad was not yet dead. But we were unable to get him to a hospital. He died two hours later. We moved the bodies into one room and covered them. The blood slowly seeped onto the carpet.”
 
Nearby, soldiers entered the home of the Bayasi family, the HRW report said. According to three local residents, all the family members—nine men, three women, and 14 children—were executed with the exception of a three-year old girl who they said was wounded but survived. 
 
A local resident, Majed, who was among the first to discover the corpses also shared his grisly story with HRW.

“I was busy helping the surviving residents leave the town when the fiancé of one of the Bayasi women asked me to go with him to check on her," he said. "We saw no one in the first room. As we entered further into the house, we got to a room where we found so many corpses. Mothers and children piled on top of each other. One mother was still covering her son. I thought he may have survived, but as I turned her over, I saw that he had been also shot. My friend’s fiancé was also killed. We closed the windows of the house because we did not want any wild animals to come in.”
 
The HRW report also detailed a separate incident in which the wife of a man called Muhammad Shaker said she found her husband with bullet wounds to his head and shoulder.
 
“Half of his head…was all smashed up. His insides were all out,” she told HRW. “This [the injuries to his abdomen] was done with cleavers.”
 
Cell phone video
 
The Human Rights Watch report includes cell phone video recordings made by survivors to support much of the testimony gathered by HRW.  Some images of the dead – although only of dead men – also were shown the following days on Syrian state television. The dead men were said to be “terrorists.”
 
HRW investigators also spoke to survivors who discovered the bodies in the cell phone store in al-Bayda.
 
This citizen journalist image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village.This citizen journalist image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village.
x
This citizen journalist image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village.
This citizen journalist image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village.
“What we saw inside it [the store] I cannot describe,” said Mohammad, an opposition activist. “The room was four meters by four meters. There were more than 60 dead bodies there. They were all next to each other and all burnt. The smoke was still coming out of them.”
 
According to HRW, similar summary executions took place in Baniyas, 10 kilometers from al-Bayda, where local residents named 30 men, 22 women, and 29 children who had been executed.
 
Conventional weapons used
 
“While the world’s attention is on ensuring that Syria’s government can no longer use chemical weapons against its population, we shouldn’t forget that Syrian government forces have used conventional means to slaughter civilians,” says Joe Stork, HRW’s acting Middle East director.
 
Why al-Bayda and Baniyas were earmarked for such treatment isn’t clear, but some opposition activists say the executions were meant to encourage Sunni Muslims to leave the region.
 
Both sides in Syria’s increasingly sectarian conflict, though, have committed atrocities.

Earlier this week, the United Nations commission charged with investigating human rights violations in Syria released an updated version of its findings listing a number of violations committed by both the rebels and Assad government forces.
 
“Government and pro-government forces have continued to conduct widespread attacks on the civilian population, committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance,” the commission said. "They have laid siege to neighborhoods and subjected them to indiscriminate shelling."
 
But the commission also noted that Syrian rebels “have committed war crimes, including murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage taking.”
 
The commission said the Syrian government was responsible for eight massacres since the beginning of the year, while the rebels were responsible for one.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs