Syrian government forces carried out war crimes during a two-week offensive in the northern province of Idlib shortly before an April 12 cease-fire came into effect, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday. According to HRW Syrian troops killed at least 95 civilians and burned or destroyed hundreds of houses as U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan was negotiating with the Syrian government to end the fighting. In a 38-page report, the group documented summary executions, killings of civilians and arbitrary detentions and torture that it says qualify as war crimes.
"While diplomats argued over details of Annan's peace plan, Syrian tanks and helicopters attacked one town in Idlib after another," said Anna Neistat, associate director for program and emergencies at Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch documented large-scale military operations that government forces conducted between March 22 and April 6, 2012, in opposition strongholds in Idlib governorate, causing the death of at least 95 civilians. In each attack, government security forces used numerous tanks and helicopters.
In nine separate incidents documented by HRW, government forces executed 35 civilians in their custody. The majority of executions took place during the attack on Taftanaz, a town of about 15,000 inhabitants northeast of Idlib city on April 3 and 4.
In several other cases documented by HRW, government forces opened fire and killed or injured civilians trying to flee the attacks.Upon entering the towns, government forces and shabeeha (pro-government militias) also burned and destroyed a large number of houses, stores, cars, tractors, and other property.
Inn the meantime fighting is still going on in spite of the cease fire. At least 20 Syrian regime troops and two rebel fighters were killed in violent clashes overnight in the provinces of Aleppo and Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday. Fifteen soldiers, including two colonels, were killed in an ambush by rebels at dawn on Wednesday in northern Aleppo province.The ambush took place near the village of Al-Rai, also two rebel fighters were killed.
Meanwhile, in the Harasta suburb of Damascus, "violent clashes" killed at least six soldiers, the monitoring group added. The eastern province of Deir Ezzor also suffered violence, with shelling by regime forces on Al-Dahla village, the Observatory reported. In Al-Quriya town, regime troops conducted raids and burned down activists' homes. In southern Daraa, a civilian was killed by regime gunfire in the Al-Lajaa area.