Report: Assad's Forces Razing Whole Neighborhoods in Syria
Watchdog group Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report Thursday claiming that Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces have been razing entire neighborhoods in Damascus and Hama.
The report, entitled Razed to the Ground, uses satellite images, unverified YouTube uploads, and photos as evidence that mass-scale demolitions have evicted thousands of families since July 2012.
The report noted that locals were given little to no warning of the demolitions, which at least one military official stated publicly in October 2012 are to "drive out opposition fighters."
HRW found seven documented demolition cases, the report's summary noted. Affected neighborhoods include Masha al-Arbaeen and Wadi al-Joz in Hama; Tadamon, Barzeh, Qaboun and the Mezzeh military airport in Damascus; and the suburb of Harran al-Awamid. Photos show that the damage to those neighborhoods is extreme; from one image to the next, whole blocks have been reduced to mere piles of rubble.
"Wiping entire neighborhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war," Ole Solvang, an HRW emergencies researcher, stated to the press. "These unlawful demolitions are the latest additions to a long list of crimes committed by the Syrian government."
"While the authorities might have been justified in taking some targeted measures to protect these military or strategic locations, the destruction of hundreds of residential buildings, in some cases kilometers away, appears to have been disproportionate and to have violated international law," the organization added.
The Syrian government has responded by claiming that the demolitions were routine, stemming from reports that several of the neighborhoods had been built illegally.
Solvang, however, remained skeptical.
"No one should be fooled by the government's claim that it is undertaking urban planning in the middle of a bloody conflict," Solvang said, cited by CNN. "This was collective punishment of communities suspected of supporting the rebellion."
The accusation is just one more on the laundry list of war crimes accused against the Syrian President, as the Geneva 2 conference to end the three-year civil war continues.
Condemnations against the regime include responsibility for August's chemical weapons attack; reports that Syrian army soldiers were given permission to rape women; and the unprecedented murder of 130,000 Syrian citizens.
The news surfaces less than 48 hours after another accusation was launched on the regime: that Assad has been dragging his feet in the international effort to rid the region of chemical weapons - and that biological weapons could soon surface.