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Monday, July 11, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Report: Syrian forces ordered to use deadly force under threat of death

WASHINGTON — Syrian security forces were commanded to shoot and kill protesters and feared death for disobeying orders, a report said.


The New York-based Human Rights Watch quoted Syrian officers as saying that those who refused to shoot pro-democracy demonstrators were killed. The officers, who defected to neighboring Turkey, told HRW that Syrian Army and security units were told that the demonstrators were actually Saudi- and U.S.-sponsored terrorists.

"The testimony of these defectors provides further evidence that the killing of protesters was no accident but a result of a deliberate policy by senior figures in Syria to use deadly force to disperse protesters," HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said.

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In a report released on July 9, HRW quoted a defector as saying that two soldiers who refused live fire orders were shot and killed. The report, titled "Syria: Defectors Describe Orders to Shoot Unarmed Protesters," said the slain soldiers had been deployed in the southern city of Dera, the focus of the revolt against President Bashar Assad in April and May.

The attacks by the Assad regime usually consisted of teams of army and plainclothes security personnel. A former member of the Presidential Guard recalled being given an AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle and electric taser to fight what commanders termed street gangs in the Damascus suburb of Hasarta.

"We couldn't see any gangs, just civilians, including some women and children, in the street, and members of the mukhabarat [intelligence units] firing at them," a defector told HRW. "We received clear orders to shoot at civilians from the Presidential Guard officers and from the 4th military Battalion, although normally we don't get orders from other units. One of the officers who gave orders was Maj. Mujahed Ali Hassan from 4th Battalion; his military vehicle license plate is 410. The exact orders were 'load and shoot.' "

The defector recalled that when he reached five meters from the protest, he and four other soldiers ran to join the demonstrators. He said the defectors threw their weapons to the opposition gathering.

Another defector recalled an order from Col. Abdul Hamid Ibrahim for army, air force and Alawite mercenaries to fire toward protesters in Homs on April 19. The defector said the protesters did not have weapons and were sitting in the square of the city.

"We were shooting for more than half an hour," the unnamed defector said. "There were dozens and dozens of people killed and wounded. Thirty minutes later, earth diggers and fire trucks arrived. The diggers lifted the bodies and put them in a truck. I don't know where they took them. The wounded ended up at the military hospital in Homs. And then the fire trucks started cleaning the square."

The Syrian opposition has asserted that at least 1,600 civilians and 350 soldiers were killed in the four months of the uprising. HRW said it interviewed officers who served in Aleppo, Damascus, Dera, Homs and Izra and later fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

"Syrian soldiers and officials should know that they too have not just a right but a duty to refuse such unlawful orders, and that those who deliberately kill or injure peaceful protesters will be subject to prosecution," Ms. Whitson said.

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