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Syria: Government Uses Homs Tactics on Border Town
Human Rights Watch
22 March 2012
Syrian security forces are committing serious abuses in their military campaign on al-Qusayr, a city of approximately 40,000 in Homs governorate near the Lebanese border, Human Rights Watch said today. Witnesses describe heavy shelling of residential neighborhoods, snipers shooting residents on the streets, and attacks on fleeing residents. Humanitarian conditions are dire, including food and water shortages, communications blackouts, and virtually non-existent medical assistance.

Eighteen witnesses from al-Qusayr, including an international journalist who stayed there from March 8 to 15, 2012, described shelling by the security forces, attacks on fleeing residents, and sniper fire at residents. Their accounts reflect similar tactics used by government forces in Idlib and Homs previously documented by Human Rights Watch, suggesting a coordinated policy of abuse.

“Following their bloody siege of Homs, the Assad forces are applying their same brutal methods in al-Qusayr,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Having seen the devastation inflicted on Homs, the Russian government should stop arms sales to the Syrian government or risk becoming further implicated in human rights violations.”

A number of al-Qusayr residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch, who have not been identified by their real names for fear of retribution, indicated that attacks by Syrian security forces – including attacks on protesters, destruction of property, home raids, and sniper attacks – have been going on for several months, but that the army began heavy shelling of residential areas between one and three months ago. Some reports indicate that following the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) withdrawal from Baba Amr on March 1, fighters retreating from Homs moved on to al-Qusayr. An al-Qusayr resident told Human Rights Watch that the FSA has been in the town since February.

Shelling of Civilians

Since at least the end of February, witnesses, many of whom were injured in the attacks, said the army has been launching dozens of 81-mm and 121-mm shells into the town on a daily basis. The witnesses also told Human Rights Watch that food and water are scarce, communications have been cut, and medical assistance is virtually non-existent, contributing to the rising death toll as doctors are unable to treat the wounded.

Mattieu Mabin, a correspondent for France 24 who was in al-Qusayr from March 8 to 15, (…) believed that the attacks were targeted, rather than random. He said the civilians could not have been mistaken for members of the armed opposition – specifically FSA fighters – given that they had no weapons, and women and children were present.

Sniper Attacks

In addition to shelling, witnesses described attacks by snipers positioned on the roofs of the municipal building and other buildings. Human Rights Watch interviewed six people who described sniper attacks from February and March, including one child who was wounded by sniper fire.


Attacks on Fleeing Residents

Witnesses also described being shot at from checkpoints, including while fleeing al-Qusayr.

Lack of Medical Care

A nurse from al-Qusayr told Human Rights Watch that the hospital in Qusayr where she used to work closed six months ago and was taken over by the military. Other witnesses corroborated this testimony.

Mabin said that he was shocked to see the field hospital where the victims of the March 13 shelling were brought for treatment. He said:
I have never seen such a dire situation in terms of medical assistance in any other conflict I’ve covered – not in Libya, not in Afghanistan. The “hospital” was just a tent under a tree, about 6 square meters, with one doctor and a medical student. They had nothing – no morphine, no alcohol for disinfecting the wounds, let alone proper equipment; they were running out of bandages. Before leaving, I gave the doctor 10 doses of morphine that I normally carry to war zone assignments, and he accepted it as the most precious gift. But it would probably only last him for a few days. At that point, they could no longer arrange the transfer of the wounded to Lebanon, and knew they were likely to die.
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