Human rights groups report that thousands of women have been raped by Syrian army soldiers in the ongoing war, which is now in its third year and has left 130,000 dead. That trend appears likely to only increase, as a deputy to the Chief Mufti (Islamic scholar) of Syria has given religious permission to rape.
On Thursday, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman Ali al-Dala, aid to the chief mufti of Syria, who is loyal to President Bashar Assad, gave an interview to Sham FM, a radio station that supports Assad.
In the interview, Al-Dala said Syrian army soldiers have permission to "marry" unmarried and married women, sisters and mothers of the rebel fighters, without any official marriage agreement. He clarified that the rape is intended as a punishment for not reporting the rebels to the goverment forces.
In making his statement, the Sheikh placed his religious authority behind the rape of women and girls by soldiers, as part of their fight against the rebels.
According to testimony taken from captured soldiers and captains before they were put to death by rebels, rape has been employed as a common practice by the army, well before Al-Dala's official religious support was stated.
While particularly attractive women are reportedly brought to senior commanders, rape victims include religious muslim women dressed in face veils and full-body cloaks (niqab).
It must be noted that for their part, the rebels have publicized religious permission for their fighters to do as they please with women who fall into their hands. Rebels from Al Qaeda have also apparently have been forcing Syrian Druze communities to convert to Islam.
A study in November found that Syria was the fourth worst country in the Arab world in terms of women's rights. Egypt was found to be the worst.
On December 31, Syria missed the deadline to transfer its most lethal chemical weapons out of the country for destruction.