LONDON: A new report has exposed the full extent of the brutal massacre that the Syrian regime inflicted on civilians in the town of Daraya 10 years ago, The Guardian reported on Thursday.
In the first detailed investigation into the atrocities, a team from Syria — backed by the Syrian British Consortium advocacy group — found that at least 700 people were killed when regime loyalists pushed into the town between Aug. 24 and 26, 2012.
Soldiers moved door-to-door, killing and detaining men, women and children, sparing few. Terrified families hid in basements while the troop shot dead innocent civilians.
The Syrian investigators and the SBC tracked down survivors and witnesses, many of whom had fled the country, to analyze their testimonies.
The investigators now hope that the UN and other legal groups will be moved to prosecute the responsible parties.
“This report records the atrocities perpetrated in Daraya based on the testimony of witnesses and victims, thereby memorialising their accounts and maintaining a record for posterity,” the report said.
“It also showcases that despite the passage of 10 years and the collection of substantial evidence, accountability and justice continue to elude the people of Daraya.
“Despite their disappointment in the international system, witnesses provided their testimony, recounting the heinous crimes committed in Daraya by their own government, based on their belief that their story — their truth — is not only worthy of documentation, but may one day assist in bringing justice and accountability.”
The 2012 killings were seen as the worst atrocity of the conflict at the time. The regime of President Bashar Assad said the massacre was a counterterrorism operation.
Investigators amassed evidence that regime forces and Iranian and Hezbollah militias were present and involved during the attacks on Daraya, due to the uniforms and identifying patches.
Experts also recognized some forces due to the weaponry and equipment they used. The team was also able to identify some individuals responsible.
But despite the shocking events, the killings have not attracted significant international attention besides a small reference in a UN report on Syria in 2013, which concluded that the Assad regime was carrying out war crimes.
“We chose to investigate this massacre because it was the beginning of the unravelling of Daraya,” Yasmine Nahlawi, a specialist in international law and atrocity prevention, told The Guardian.
“The army had engaged in skirmishes before, going into the city and shooting at demonstrators. But this was the first major event that led to a spiral of targeted campaigns against the city, further massacres, a siege and bombardments.”
Yafa Omar, an investigator who remembered hearing the bombardment of Daraya from Damascus, told the newspaper: “If you allow these crimes to happen in Syria it will become the norm, and it will happen elsewhere.
“Syrians doing this paves the way for victims in other countries to use the same tools to pursue justice.”
The report found that the Assad regime and its allies were heavily shelling Daraya in the days before the ground assault.
One witness said: “The regime’s escalation against the city of Daraya began on the first or second day of Eid (Aug. 19 or 20). The bombardments became worse than normal.
“There was mortar shelling and worse types of bombardments with weapons that we didn’t know, with new sounds.”
Another witness said: “We knew that our area’s turn came when the mortars stopped.” And another said the local hospital following the attacks was “horrific, like doomsday.”
Legal efforts to prosecute regime soldiers have proved difficult, but a recent court case in Germany saw a Syrian officer convicted for crimes against humanity.
Despite this success, attempts by the UN Security Council to refer the Assad regime to the International Criminal Court have been vetoed by Russia and China.