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Executive Summary for February 9th

We review developments in Syria, including the release of a U.N. report accusing the Assad government of “exterminating” detainees, a renewed push by John Kerry to save the faltering peace process and the release of a new set of figures that puts the number of besieged Syrians at more than 1 million.

Published on Feb. 9, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

U.N. Probe Accuses Syrian Government of ‘Exterminating’ Detainees

The United Nations Human Rights Council said Monday it has uncovered evidence of widespread torture and the execution of detainees by Bashar al-Assad’s government and several insurgent groups fighting in Syria.

In a report to the council, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic detailed the findings of its four-year investigation, which included hundreds of interviews with former detainees, government defectors and family members of the deceased.

“Massive and systematized violence – including the killing of detainees in official and makeshift detention centers – has taken place out of sight, far from the battlefield,” according to the report’s introduction.

Based on more than 600 interviews since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, the report says that the level of state violence against prisoners amounts to “extermination.”

“The government has committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts … based on the same conduct, war crimes have also been committed.”

The report said that groups fighting against the Syrian government were also guilty of the execution and abuse of detainees, naming the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and ISIS.

The report was made public after U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva were suspended last week without making any progress on ending the five-year civil war, which has killed more than 260,000 people and sent some 5 million Syrians fleeing oversees.

“Accountability for these and other crimes must form part of any political solution,” the report said. “The situation of detainees is critical, and represents an urgent and large-scale crisis of human rights protection.”

“Urgent steps must be taken by the Syrian government, armed groups, external backers and the wider international community to prevent further deaths.”

More Than 1 Million Besieged in Syria, Report Says

In a report challenging siege figures compiled by the United Nations, a watchdog group said more than 1 million Syrians are trapped in besieged areas across the country, the Associated Press reports.

The U.N., which has maintained that some 450,000 Syrians are under siege, has been accused by some aid groups of understating the crisis.

The report compiled by Siege Watch and issued Tuesday by the Netherlands-based aid group PAX and the Washington-based Syria Institute, comes one month after images of emaciated children in the government-besieged town of Madaya led to an international outcry. At the time, the U.N. had labeled Madaya a “hard to reach area.”

The Siege Watch report says there are some 1.09 million people living in 46 besieged communities, more than double the figure of 18 listed by the U.N.

According to the report, most of the 1 million are besieged by the Syrian government in the suburbs of Damascus and in Homs. In Deir Ezzor, there are some 200,000 people besieged by the Syrian government and ISIS.

The report lists two communities under siege by armed rebel groups.

Estimates by the international aid group Doctors Without Borders go far beyond the figure provided by Siege Watch, placing the number of besieged Syrians as high as 1.9 million.

U.S. Pushing for Immediate Ceasefire, Aid in Syria

U.S. officials said Monday that Secretary of State John Kerry will push for an immediate ceasefire and aid to civilians in Syria in an attempt to keep the faltering peace process alive, Reuters reports.

Syrian opposition figures, Western diplomats and analysts have all voiced concern over the past week that efforts to establish peace in Syria have been essentially ruined by a Russian military push that has allowed Bashar al-Assad to shore up his hold on strategic areas of the country.

Even if a ceasefire can be achieved, critics warn it may come too late.

Pro-government forces, backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, advanced on Monday toward the Turkish border north of Aleppo, further encircling Syria’s northernmost city and cutting off vital rebel supply routes.

Kerry’s diplomatic push could very well determine whether U.S.-backed rebel groups help to negotiate a political settlement in Syria or whether they break apart and join either the flow of refugees heading to Europe or extremist groups like ISIS.

Recommended Reads

Top image: A Syrian man tries to stay warm with a fire at a camp near the Bab al-Salam border crossing with Turkey, in Syria, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Thousands of Syrians have rushed toward the Turkish border, fleeing fierce Syrian government offensives and intense Russian airstrikes. (AP Photo/Bunyamin Aygun)

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