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Fate of east Aleppo detainees unknown

Orient Net - Yasser Ashkar 2017-03-02 15:04:00

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It has been more than two months since the Assad regime’s loyal militias stormed Aleppo’s eastern neighborhoods leading to the displacement of a large number of trapped civilians who were driven out of their homes by a barrage of heavy shelling and crimes being committed by Assad’s sectarian loyalists. 

Until now, there is no new information regarding the fate of many civilians arbitrarily arrested at military checkpoints on their way towards the regime areas after being forced to evacuate those neighborhoods under opposition control. 

Subsequently a number of international reports have confirmed that thousands of forcibly displaced people are believed to have been abducted by regime forces while fleeing from the east of Aleppo to the western part of the city and detained without any warrants for their arrest being issued. 

“Nobody knows anything about their destiny,” said a lawyer living in east Aleppo.

Activists inside Aleppo are holding the United Nations responsible for demanding a disclosure of the fates of those being held as prisoners and those who have disappeared, as well as indication of the reasons for the arrests and the number of those released. 

But the United Nations’ track record for being able to deal effectively and decisively with the Assad regime has been poor to say the least.

"The United Nations is crippled to interfere in this matter,” said Abo Bakri, Syrian activist from Aleppo.

According to Syrian and international laws, any arrest must be accompanied by arrest warrants that explain the reason for the arrest and the nature of the charges against the detainee. 

Subsequently all arrests carried out by Assad detectives of civilians displaced from their east Aleppo neighborhoods are considered arbitrary arrests and in violation of local and international laws.

The arrests were the culmination of a fierce attack on east Aleppo following four years of heavy shelling and many months of relentless siege on civilians as part of the regime’s final campaign to regain control of the liberated areas of the city.

The brutal campaign led to the deaths and displacement of many civilians and ultimately forced those who were left to flee to either the regime controlled area or through an agreement, to Idlib. 

Before reaching that stage however, the residents of east Aleppo who had refused to leave their homes found themselves being targeted by a variety of weapons. 

For example, since the February 2014 unanimous passage of UN Security Council resolution 2139 which condemned the use of explosive barrels against civilians, 19,947 barrels packed with explosives were dropped on civilian areas of the city. 

In spite of the fact they were being targeted by the regime, there was no mass exodus of civilians during the period when opposition fighters were in control of the neighborhoods in east Aleppo from the summer of 2012 until the final siege.

Even when the regime warned residents to leave before the siege, there was no mass exodus of civilians which means that what eventually happened was due to the military pressure of the regime and loyalist militias.

East Aleppo residents had preferred to live in freedom from the oppression and brutality of the Assad regime even if it meant being targeted by Assad’s barrel bombs.

Syrian activist Ashraf Hilal said that upon the siege of the eastern part of Aleppo last July, Russia announced a humanitarian initiative and opened four crossing points in order to allow civilians and combatants to exit from Aleppo. 

At the time, the people of the city insisted on staying but eventually the ground incursion by the Assad regime and its militias pushed civilians towards regime controlled areas of west Aleppo.

M. Tahhan, a lawyer living in the regime controlled area in Aleppo, confirms that the fate of most of the civilians who were arrested in Aleppo remains unknown until now.

"What is known about the detainees is only what was shown through pictures at the beginning of their detention,” said Tahhan.

“There is no legal context to these detainees," he added stressing the presence of women and children among them.

Mahmoud Bitar, human rights defender living in southern Turkey, told Orient Net; “Hundreds of men disappeared after reaching the Assad regime checkpoints.”

Bitar said there have also been reports of public group executions during the final siege on Aleppo.

“What is most heartbreaking to me about the stories of executions is the number of children who were among the people who were slaughtered in their homes by Assad forces,” said Bitar.

Amnesty International (AI) was also informed about the loss or disappearance of hundreds of men and boys from the regime controlled area of Aleppo.

“I have worked before with AI on reports covering the issue of forced disappearances conducted by Assad forces in actions that reach the level of crimes against humanity,” Bitar told Orient Net.

AI also said that the fate of White Helmet Abdulhadi Kamel is so far unknown. 

He was last seen being taken away by Hezbollah forces after being shot while trying to prevent them from entering a bus full of east Aleppo evacuees that included a pregnant woman. 

In January a video of Kamel denouncing the White Helmets was released by the Assad regime.

Kamel has been a Syrian Civil Defense volunteer since 2013 and is believed to have been coerced by the regime into making the video.

Critics of the White Helmets have made claims that they are actors and terrorists paid by the west in an effort to make Assad look bad.

White Helmet rescuers work as volunteers but there are a number of groups that have raised money to supply them with necessary equipment as well as to support their families and the families of White Helmet volunteers who have died in Syria.

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