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While I remain opposed to U.S. military intervention in Syria, an article today highlights the brutality of the Syrian army.  Whether or not operating under Assad's instructions, he should be held responsible and, along with others in authority, indicted and tried as a war criminal.  He is a Milosevic on a much larger scale.  While massacres have been reportedly committed by the rebels' al-Nusra Front, this hardly lets the government off the hook.  In a battle that is as much religious--Sunnis vs. Shite/Alawite--as it is political.

At seven in the morning of 2 May this year, Syrian government forces entered the village of al-Bayda, an opposition enclave nestled in the hills by the Mediterranean coast in the western governorate of Tartus, writes James Brabazon.

Al-Bayda was a sleepy place. Not much happened there, and until this spring was unremarkable except for one defining fact: it was a predominantly Sunni village, entirely surrounded by pro-regime Alawite and Christian territory.

. . . .

The only function that al-Bayda played for the opposition was to help smuggle out individual deserting government soldiers who'd run away from their bases on the coast and were trying to reach rebel-held territory.

So when the Syrian army arrived in May - to arrest a group of three Syrian army deserters who were being hidden in the outskirts village by supporters of the opposition to President Assad - no-one could have guessed what would happen.

. . . .
At 1.30pm the killing began. Men and women were separated in the houses. The "men" - which included teenage boys - were either executed immediately, or marched to the village square to be killed en masse. Most were shot. Some were hacked to death with long knives or cleavers. At least one young boy, Luqman al-Hiris, was beheaded - in front of his mother.

In the house of Mustafa Biyasi, 30 women and children were herded into one room and then executed - shot at point blank. Saffa Biyasi cuddled her baby boy, Hamza Biyasi. They lay dead next to each other, serene despite their injuries. Afnan Biyasi and another small child spooned each other on the bed they were shot on, perhaps holding each other for comfort in the last moments before the bullets ripped through their tiny bodies.

By 5pm the massacre was over. The Syrian army had killed at least 169 civilians in four hours. The verified final death toll is likely to reach beyond 250.

Bodies were stacked up in the local cellphone shop and burned, making them hard to identify. Um Mohammed, an eye witness to the massacre, was able to identify the charred remains of her son only by the chipped fingernail he'd broken earlier.

The next day government forces returned and burned al-Bayda. The sleepy village which once had a population of around 5,000 people was empty. Refugees fled to rebel-held areas of Syria and then on to Turkey and Lebanon.


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There are worse things than chemical attacks.

The world must speed up and expand its humanitarian relief to the Syrian refugees in places like Jordan.  And it must move, thorugh the UN or other diplomatic vehicle, for a ceasfire and some sort of political settlement of the conflict.  And it must bring to justice those responsible for the Al-Bayda massacre, and others like it.

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