Send Syria to International Court, Amnesty says

BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Syrian forces may have committed  crimes against humanity when they crushed protests in the town  of Tel Kelakh in May, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

Urging the United Nations to refer Syria to the  International Criminal Court, the human rights group said nine  people died in custody after being captured during the operation  in the town, close to the Lebanese border.

“Amnesty International considers that crimes committed in  Tel Kalakh amount to crimes against humanity as they appear to  be part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against  the civilian population,” it said.

In what it described as a “devastating security operation”,  scores of men were arbitrarily arrested and tortured, including  people already wounded, in response to largely peaceful  demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad, it said.

The military operation in Tel Kelakh, completed in a few  days in mid-May, sent thousands of people fleeing for shelter  into Lebanon, Amnesty said in a report compiled from witness  testimony gathered in Lebanon and from phone calls into Syria.

“The accounts we have heard from witnesses to events in Tel  Kelakh paint a deeply disturbing picture of systematic, targeted  abuses to crush dissent,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty  International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

“Most of the crimes described in this report would fall  within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. But  the U.N. Security Council must first refer the situation in  Syria to the Court’s Prosecutor.”

Tel Kelakh was one of several towns and cities across the  country where Assad sent troops and security forces to crush  protests against his rule which have now lasted 14 weeks.

Syrian activists say security forces have killed more than  1,300 civilians during the unrest. Authorities say 500 soldiers  and police have been killed by armed gangs who they also blame  for most of the civilian deaths.

Most independent media have been barred from Syria, making  it hard to verify accounts from activists and authorities.

Amnesty said the protests which triggered the crackdown in  Tel Kelakh were peaceful apart from one incident on April 27  when the arrest of a local cleric sparked violent clashes in  which two members of the security forces were killed.

When operations against Tel Kelakh began on May 14, at least  one person was killed on the first day, Amnesty said. “Even the  ambulance carrying his body came under fire. As many tried to  leave, Syrian forces fired on fleeing families,” it said.

Scores of men were rounded up, and most of them were  tortured. Some detainees told Amnesty that they were beaten and  held in the ‘shabah’ (ghost) position, tied by the wrists to a  bar high enough off the ground to force them to stand on the tip  of their toes for long periods.

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