'Targeted killings' and wave of arrests in Syria's Deraa

UN says at least 11 people were killed and 380 arrested in rebel area that surrendered to Syrian government last year.

    At least 380 civilians have been arrested in Syria’s Deraa and 11 people killed in apparent “targeted killings” since government retook the southern province, according to the United Nations.

    Marta Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the 11 cases included a number of civilians and former fighters serving in civilian local councils and the security forces.

    The killings in Deraa, the birthplace of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, took place despite attempts at reconciliation between the government and former fighters.

    Deraa surrendered to the Syrian army under a deal brokered by Russia in July last year. Assad’s government offered amnesty to former fighters under the so-called “reconciliation” agreements.

    The 11 deaths that took place from July 26, 2018, to March 13, 2019, included fatal drive-by shootings, the UN rights office said in a report.

    The agency said it was not in a position to identify any perpetrators as it has no presence in Syria, which has been gripped by war since 2011. 

    Syrian authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Hurtado told a news conference that the assailants were “clearly … targeting former opposition members or perceived opposition members”.

    ‘Empty promises’

    At least 380 people were arrested or detained in the period, including three who had recently returned after fleeing the war, she said.

    The reasons were unclear, and little or no information is given to the families, Hurtado said, adding that some arrests were said to be linked to suspicion of “terrorism”.

    About 150 were released after a few days, but at least 230 have disappeared into custody, she said.

    “In some cases, we know that they have been detained to extract information, either what happened in the past or how the opposition is currently acting, but in general, the bottom line is that they don’t inform why these detentions are taking place,” Hurtado said.

    The arrests have also alarmed activists, who said they had targeted former armed and political opposition leaders, media activists, aid workers, defectors, and family members.

    “Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of Assad’s rule,” Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

    “Lack of due process, arbitrary arrests, and harassment, even in so-called reconciled areas, speak louder than empty government promises of return, reform, and reconciliation.”

    In a separate report on Tuesday, HRW said it had documented 11 cases of arbitrary detention and disappearance in three areas retaken by government forces last year – Daraa, the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, and southern neighbourhoods of the capital.

    “In all cases, the people targeted … had signed reconciliation agreements with the government,” it said.

    It called on Moscow to use its influence with its ally Damascus “to stop arbitrary detention and harassment,” and help “release arbitrarily held detainees”.

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