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Syrian Army Uses Human Shields in Combat, Rights Group Says

March 25, 2012

The Syrian army has used civilians as human shields during arrest and combat operations in rebel- held towns and villages, Human Rights Watch said.

Witnesses from al-Janoudyah, Kafr Nabl, Kafr Rouma and Ayn Larouz in Idlib governorate in northern Syria said they saw the army and pro-government men force people to march in front of soldiers during an offensive this month to take control of those areas, the New York-based rights group said in an e-mailed statement.

“The Syrian army should immediately stop this abhorrent practice,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at the group.

More than 8,000 people have been killed since unrest began in Syria a year ago, according to United Nations estimates. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed today ways to press President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, including non-lethal assistance to the opposition and getting Iran to stop supporting the regime.

Obama said he and Erdogan are “very much in agreement” on the need for a process to transition to a “legitimate government” in Syria. Erdogan, through a translator, said it was unacceptable to stand by as onlookers and that more needed to be done to protect Syrians within the framework of international law.

Peace Efforts

Thirty people were killed today, the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said. Government forces killed 31 civilians in fighting yesterday as they conducted raids and shelled cities, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement.

International envoy Kofi Annan, who’s leading efforts to broker peace in Syria, visited Moscow today for talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Annan visits China next week to discuss efforts to end to the crisis, the Associated Press reported yesterday, citing Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

European Union governments tightened sanctions on Syria on March 23 by extending a travel ban and asset freeze to cover Asma al-Assad, the president’s wife. The banned list now numbers 126 people and 41 Syrian companies and organizations.

Three witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that government forces placed children on tanks and inside security buses when they entered Ayn Larouz on March 10. Abdullah, a resident of Kafr Nabl, told the rights group that the army forced him and several others to walk in front of their armored personnel carriers when they were conducting a search for wanted opposition activists on March 2. Human Rights Watch said Abdullah asked that his real name not be used for fear of reprisals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Riyadh at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

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