Images provided to Human Rights Watch show that Syrian forces may have shot at civilians and despoiled their bodies in retaliatory attacks in towns where the government retook control in Idlib and Aleppo governorates, the rights group said on Monday.
The Syrian-Russian military alliance escalated an offensive on the last anti-government held areas in Idlib and western Aleppo governorate in April 2019.
Human Rights Watch obtained images that appeared to show members of the 25th Special Forces Division, a Russian-backed elite Syrian government force formerly known as the Tiger Forces, standing atop the body of a man they appear to have killed after taking control of Maaret al-Nu’man city.
The Tiger Forces, led by General Suheil al-Hassan, have received Russian training and military equipment and Russian forces say they are closely integrated within Russian operations.
“Syrian-Russian forces have indiscriminately bombed areas to force civilians to flee en masse, and now appear to be are terrorizing civilians who remain behind,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, “The abusive troops, and the commanders who fail to stop them, should be held accountable.”
Human Rights Watch had previously documented indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure, and the use of unlawful weapons, including cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, and improvised explosives in the course of the offensive.
As of December 1, the continued violence resulted in the displacement of almost 1 million people, in horrific humanitarian conditions, while Turkey maintains a closed border.
On January 28, 2020, Syrian forces retook Maaret al-Nu’man, a key city in Idlib governorate originally home to 85,000 people, following a two-month offensive.
On January 31, a media activist who chose to remain anonymous for security reasons provided Human Rights Watch with a screenshot and screen recording of a Facebook story apparently from the account of a government soldier, appearing to show that soldier and another one standing over a partially burned body. The screenshot was tagged with “Al-Maaret” indicating Maaret al-Nu’man.
Facebook Stories are only visible for 24 hours, so this image is no longer available online. (Source: HRW)