28,000 Syrians go missing in 19 months of revolt
19 October, 2012
BEIRUT/MAARET AL NUMAN: At least 28,000 Syrians have gone missing since they were abducted by forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad during the 19-month-old revolt, activist group Avaaz said on Thursday.
Quoting statements from Syrian human rights lawyers and families, Avaaz said security forces had set out to terrorise communities by grabbing people off the street and torturing them. Other rights groups have also accused Syrian rebel groups of abducting people they deem pro-government.
Video footage accompanying the Avaaz statement showed two soldiers stopping a man and a woman, forcing them to the ground and dragging them away. The film also showed an interview with a man saying his wife had been abducted six months ago in the Baba Amr district of Homs, which has been partly levelled by government bombardment.
One Syrian-based human rights organisation reported up to 80,000 people had disappeared, added Avaaz, a campaign network that aids opposition activists in Syria alongside other causes worldwide. The figures could not be verified independently.
Activists say 30,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict that started with peaceful protests but turned violent after months of oppression.
Avaaz said it would hand over the reports of the abductions to the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying they amounted to "enforced disappearances".
Meanwhile, Syrian fighter jets blasted the rebel-held town of Maaret al Numan on Thursday, killing at least 44 people, rescuers said, adding urgency to truce calls by peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
Rescuers said bombs destroyed two residential buildings and a mosque, where many women and children were taking refuge, in the strategic northwestern town, which was captured by rebels on October 9 in a push to create a buffer zone along the Turkish border. "We have recovered 44 corpses from under the rubble," one worker told an AFP correspondent at the scene.
A resident who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said several of those killed had just returned to their homes. "They thought the danger had passed." Several fighter jets flew over Maaret al Numan and the surrounding area throughout Thursday morning.
They made short dives to drop at least 10 bombs on the town and its eastern outskirts, near the besieged Wadi Deif army base, which came under heavy bombardment by the rebels.
In early evening, the rebels launched what they said was a "final assault" on the base, which is a key depot for tanks and fuel supplies. Hundreds of fighters attacked the base. Three tanks were destroyed and at least six soldiers surrendered, rebel officers said.
The base is situated two kilometres from the Damascus-Aleppo highway, of which the rebels control a stretch of several kilometres. That is severely impairing the army's ability to resupply units under fire in the northern metropolis for the past three months.
In the capital, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up just 300 metres from the Interior Ministry without causing any casualties, a security source said. The bombing came on the eve of Brahimi's arrival in Damascus to press his call for a ceasefire during the four-day Eidul Azha holiday starting on October 26.
Speaking in neighbouring Jordan, the UN-Arab League envoy said he hoped such a temporary ceasefire could form the basis for a longer lasting truce, warning the alternative would be disastrous for the whole region. "If the ceasefire is implemented, we can build on it and make it a real truce as well as the start of a political process that would help the Syrians solve their problems and rebuild their country," Brahimi said in Amman.
"If the Syrian crisis continues, it will not remain inside Syria. It will affect the entire region," he added.
The Algerian diplomat's visit to Syria for talks with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Saturday (tomorrow) will be his last stop on a tour of countries that play influential roles in the crisis — Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.