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U.N. commissioner warns of possible atrocities in Qusair, Syria

May 10, 2013|By Raja Abdulrahim
  • Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech at parliament in Damascus in June.
Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech at parliament in Damascus… (Associated Press )

The United Nations commissioner for human rights on Friday warned of possible atrocities in the Syrian town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, as reports emerged of a major military buildup.

Commissioner Navi Pillay said Syrian government forces and pro-regime militias were reportedly surrounding the town and that some civilians could be displaced. 

“It appears likely that this is in preparation for a large-scale attack to uproot the armed opposition from Qusair, and local people clearly fear a possible repeat of last week’s killings of civilians,” Pillay said in a statement.

Muhammad Al-Raed, a rebel with the Wadi militia in Qusair, said: “There is fear of a massacre, may God protect us."

The Syrian army along with Hezbollah forces have been besieging the town, which still has about 30,000 residents, for a month and have made daily attempts to storm it, he said.

Rebel groups have been able to fight off forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, but food and weapon supplies were dwindling. Electricity and running water have been cut off for more than a month, he said.

“We are remaining steadfast,” Al-Raed said.

Pillay's statement came a week after civilian massacres reportedly by pro-government militias occurred around the coastal town of Baniyas. Many of those killed were women and small children. Photos of the aftermath showed some hacked to death and piles of bloodied and burned bodies. 

Opposition groups said more than 200 people were killed.

Pillay said the killings allegedly carried out by government forces and its militias should spur the international community to act quickly to find a solution to the conflict and she renewed her plea that the situation be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation into possible war crimes. Violations from anti-government armed groups are also on the rise, she said.

The attacks last week “seem to indicate a campaign targeting specific communities perceived to be supportive of the opposition,” she said.

The Syrian National Coalition, a major opposition umbrella group, labeled the killings “genocide.” Although the coastal region is largely Alawite, the minority sect of Assad, the districts targeted are made up mostly of Sunni Muslims, who make up a majority of the Syrian population and have led the uprising against the Assad government.

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raja.abdulrahim@latimes.com

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