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Syrian opposition warns of government using civilians as "human shields" - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In this citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke rises after explosives were dropped by a Syrian government warplane, in Idlib province, northern Syria, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN)

In this citizen journalism image provided by the Edlib News Network (ENN), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke rises after explosives were dropped by a Syrian government warplane in Idlib province, northern Syria, on Friday, August 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian opposition warned yesterday that the Syrian government plans on using civilians as human shields in the face of the expected US strikes.

Different opposition sources confirmed that the government has evacuated military and security sites that are expected targets of any Western military strike on Syria, relocating military equipment and personnel to populated areas.

Security campaigns have also seen groups of Syrians arrested.

Ahmad Ramadan, a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), announced that the governmental forces “have begun mass arrest campaigns, especially of young people in Damascus.

“They are working to transfer them to military camps and army barracks, where they will be used as human shields in the event of a military attack,” he said, pointing out that “information indicates raids on civilian houses, arresting young men, and bringing them in trucks to the camps.”

He explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Syrian government has begun two operations. Besides the arrest and transfer of detainees to military facilities—portraying them as government supporters that are against the Western military strike—we have received information that the regime is working to evacuate security and military headquarters and moving [the personnel] into populated areas.”

Ramadan pointed out that “some homes in civilian communities are being used as security and communications sites.”

He also claimed that military and security elements had been instructed by their superiors to “disarm and move around in civilian clothing.”

Syrian forces have also been told to not to travel using “military vehicles, in order to avoid attracting attention.” Instead, they should “use civilian cars and taxis.”

Writing on his Facebook page, Ramadan asked civilians “not to allow the establishment of safe havens for regime elements; inform Free Syrian Army battalion commanders of them and their movements; and prevent them from using civilians as human shields.”

Local residents should also “monitor movements along main roads to prevent regime elements from escaping towards Lebanese territories or the coastal region.”

Opposition assessments vary over the precise locations that could be targeted in the expected strike, but sources suggest that known governmental headquarters and camps could be selected as targets.

Ramadan warned that the government is “intent on continuing its targeting of civilian areas at the same time as the Western bombing.” He explained that the government would then use these civilian casualties as propaganda against ‘Friends of Syria’ countries.

The SNC warned in a statement that the government “is putting groups of civilians and a large number of prisoners within or close to military sites.” It went on to say that the use of civilians as human shields “violates human rights conventions, disregards international humanitarian law, and is a crime against humanity.”

Government efforts are focused on using civilians as “human shields” in the capital, Damascus, according to the opposition. Ramadan said that his organization is “observing these measures in the capital, while the regime is using various procedures in other areas, most notably the process of evacuating officers that were working in research and study areas and relocating them to safer areas.”

Activists told the Reuters news agency that “Assad’s forces appeared to have evacuated most personnel from army and security command headquarters.”

The media center affirmed that trucks had evacuated the headquarters of the 4th Division, located behind Mount Qasion in Damascus. The unit is accused of bombing Al-Ghouta with chemical weapons. It is also the backbone of the Syrian Army.