Syrian army deserters kill 27 soldiers in Deraa

By REUTERS
December 15, 2011 10:33

High casualties suggest coordinated strikes by rebels; rights group: Army commanders ordered to kill protesters.

2 minute read.



Syria protesters

Syria protesters 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

BEIRUT - Syrian army deserters killed at least 27 soldiers and security force personnel in a series of clashes in the southern province of Deraa at dawn on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The British-based group said the deserters fought forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in two locations in the city of Deraa itself, as well as a checkpoint at a crossroads about 25 km (15 miles) to the east of the city.

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It did not say how the clashes broke out, but the high casualties among security forces suggested coordinated strikes by the army rebels, who have escalated their attacks on military targets in recent weeks.

Rami Abdulrahman of the Observatory said in the fighting near Musayfrah, east of Deraa, all 15 personnel at a joint army and security checkpoint were killed.

The United Nations says 5,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on protests against his rule which erupted in Deraa nine months ago, inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

The protests have been increasingly overshadowed by the armed insurgency against Assad's forces. Authorities say armed groups have targeted civilians and security forces since the start of the uprising, killing more than 1,100 soldiers and police.

Human Rights Watch said Thursday that Syrian army commanders have ordered troops to halt protests against Assad "by all means necessary", often giving explicit instructions to fire on demonstrators.

In a report based on dozens of interviews with army and intelligence defectors, it quoted one special forces soldier saying his brigade was told to "use as many bullets as you want" on protesters in the southern province of Deraa in April.

A sniper in the city of Homs said his commanders ordered that a specific percentage of demonstrators should die. "For 5,000 protesters, for example, the target would be 15 to 20 people," he told Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Assad denied last week that orders were issued "to kill or be brutal". Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman said security forces were clearly instructed not to use live ammunition.

But HRW said all defectors it spoke to said their commanders ordered them to stop the protests "by all necessary means" - a phrase they understood to authorize lethal force.

About half of the defectors said officers also gave direct orders to fire at protesters or bystanders, and assured them that they would not be held accountable, it said.

"Our general orders were to kill, destroy stores, crush cars in the streets and arrest people," HRW quoted a soldier who defected from the Syrian army's 5th Division as saying.

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