Boiling Tensions, Reports Of Torture Could Prompt Change In Syria
According to the watchdog organization, opposition activists in 27 gulag-esque prisons have been subjected to treatments like "dulab," in which they're beaten while their heads and legs are stuffed into a car tire. Some of the 200 or so former prisoners interviewed also reported suffering through "basat al reeh," a technique in which they're tied to a board and beaten.
The 81-page report's title, "The Torture Archipelago," is intended to draw a parallel with the Siberian gulags in Alexander Solzhenitsyn novel, "The Gulag Archipelago."
"It is a network of torture chambers that the authorities are using to intimidate and punish people who dare to oppose the government," said Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch researcher.
"Nobody knows how many people are being detained, how many are being tortured," he added. "But one local activist group has collected names of 25,000 people in detention. The numbers are absolutely staggering."
HRW said the system is headed by a collective of agencies known as mukhabarat, "secret police"—the Department of Military Intelligence, the Political Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate.
The Syrian government has consistently denied these kinds of abuses take place. But in a rare concession, President Bashar al-Assad apologized Tuesday for the recent downing of a Turkish warplane.
According to The New York Times, Assad was quoted in a Turkish newspaper: "I say 100 percent, I wish we did not shoot it down."
Syrian officials have said the plane was mistakenly identified as Israeli. Turkey said that although the jet had strayed into Syrian airspace, it was already back in international airspace when it was shot down.
The incident has had a serious impact on Turkish-Syrian relations. Turkey has threatened to respond with military action to any observed threat. Turkey has already prepared on three separate occasions to launch fighter jets in response to Syrian helicopters approaching the border, but Syria has stopped just short of violating Turkey's airspace.
From The Times:
Mr. Assad said he did not want to the situation to turn into open warfare. “We will not allow it to turn into an armed conflict that would harm both countries,” Mr. Assad said, denying claims that Syria had deployed forces along the Turkish border. “This would damage both Turkey and Syria,” he told Cumhuriyet, which is often critical of the Mr. Erdogan’s government.
In the interview, Mr. Assad was quoted as complaining that Turkey had cut all military and diplomatic communications with Syria, so the episode could not be contained through diplomatic channels. He said Syrian gunners did not know the plane was Turkish until they shot it down. “The plane used the corridor used by the Israeli planes three times in the past,” he said. “We learned it was Turkish after we shot it down.”
Mr. Assad said he would not be forced from office by outsiders, but would leave if Syrians wanted him to go. “I would of course leave when millions in my country wish me gone,” he said. “Why would I stay where I am not wanted?”
According to Reuters, Russia is intervening to set the groundwork for peace between Assad's regime and the opposition. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with opposition leaders in Moscow next week.
"We will use this coming meeting with yet another Syrian opposition group to continue work to end violence and start Syrian dialogue between the government and all groups of the Syrian opposition as soon as possible," Lavrov said at a briefing with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh.
Russia previously vetoed sanctions for Syria. And though Western powers pushed at a Geneva meeting over the weekend to push Assad out of any new government, Lavrov said his own plan for peace did not involve Assad necessarily stepping down.
Read more of Neon Tommy's Syria coverage here.