Syrian LCC activists reject al-Qaeda; HRW accuses Assad of war crimes

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

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A Syrian protester adjusts his traditional Arab keffiyeh during an anti-government protest in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 5, 2013. The UN is hiking its estimates of people trapped in Syria after fleeing their homes, saying some four million are now displaced inside the country and in dire need of international help. (Photo: AFP - Dimitar Dilkoff)

Published Thursday, April 11, 2013

Syrian activists on Thursday dismissed as "blatant interference" a weekend call by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri for an Islamic state to be established in the strife-torn country.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian government of deliberately targeting bakeries, breadlines and hospitals in the country's northern region, killing 4,300 civilians.

"The Local Coordination Committees in Syria completely reject the statement by ... Zawahiri in which he called for the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria," said the LCC, a network of peaceful activists on the ground.

"The LCC condemns (Zawahiri's) blatant interference in Syria's internal affairs," it added.

The LCC's statement comes a day after Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, pledged allegiance to Zawahiri but distanced itself from claims of a merger with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The LCC made no mention of Al-Nusra's statement, while debate rages among activists over whether the powerful jihadists should be recognized as a legitimate part of Syrian revolutionary forces.

Analysts warn that two years into a revolt that has left more than 70,000 people dead, according to UN figures, sectarianism and extremism could sweep away the ideals with which activists first took to the streets in a popular uprising two years ago.

"Only Syrians will decide their country's future. The LCC says once again that the Syrian revolution began in order to achieve freedom, justice and a civil, democratic, pluralist state," the statement said.

It added that the anti-Assad revolt is aimed at setting up in Syria "a state for all its citizens".

4,300 killed in airstrikes

The Syrian government has carried out indiscriminate and sometimes deliberate airstrikes against civilians that have killed at least 4,300 people since last summer and that amount to war crimes, an international human rights group said Thursday.

"The aim of the airstrikes appears to be to terrorize civilians from the air, particularly in the opposition-controlled areas where they would otherwise be fairly safe from any effects of fighting," Ole Solvang of the New York-based group told The Associated Press.

These attacks are "serious violations of international humanitarian law," and people who commit such breaches are "responsible for war crimes," the New York-based group said.

Solvang led the HRW team that inspected 52 sites in northern Syria and documented 59 unlawful attacks by the Syrian Air Force. At least 152 people were killed in these attacks, according to a HRW report released Thursday.

In most of the strikes, the regime planes appear to have had no military target in sight, such as armed opposition supporters or rebel headquarters, when they dropped their weapons on civilian areas, the group said.

The 80-page HRW report said that across Syria, more than 4,300 civilians have been killed in attacks by Assad's jets since last July.

The report is the most comprehensive study of Syrian air force operations since last summer, when the Assad's forces started to rely heavily on fighter jets to repel rebel advances and reverse their territorial gains.

Officials in Damascus could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

The opposition now controls large swathes of northern Syria, and last month captured their first provincial capital, the city of Raqqa. The opposition fighters also control whole districts of Aleppo, and some key infrastructure in the east, including oil fields and dams on the Euphrates River.

The continued threat from the air has also stalled efforts to effectively govern rebel-held areas, allowing opposition leaders from the Western-backed alliance only brief excursions into areas under rebel control.

HRW noted that in the past weeks, Assad's jets have increasingly been hitting targets around Syria, including in the capital Damascus and in Raqqa, the city recently captured by the rebels. The air raids in the rebel-held northern areas occur daily, the group said.

They airstrike campaign appears to be aimed at preventing the opposition from running the areas captured from the regime.

"The air force has no other reason to continue hitting rebel areas but to prove to the opposition that it can't rule," Solvang said in a phone interview on Thursday.

The United Nations says that more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's 2-year-old conflict. It started with peaceful protests against Assad's rule, inspired by other Arab Spring uprisings, but soon descended into full-blown civil war.

(AFP, AP, Al-Akhbar)

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