Israeli minister and former IDF general says 'the time has come to assassinate Assad'

Ex Southern Command leader who oversaw 2008 war with Gaza says US claims Syrian government carried out mass executions and burned bodies amount to nothing less than a ‘genocide’

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The Independent Online

An Israeli cabinet minister has called for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad following new allegations over his government’s treatment of political prisoners.

“The reality of the situation in Syria is that they are executing people, using directed chemical attacks against them, and the latest extreme -  burning their corpses, something we haven’t seen in 70 years,” Yoav Galant, currently Housing and Construction Minister, told an audience at a conference near Jerusalem on Tuesday.

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“In my view, we are crossing a red line. And in my view, the time has come to assassinate Assad. It’s as simple as that,”  the former Israel Defence Force (IDF) Southern Command General said, referencing the Holocaust.    

When asked about his speech by the Times of Israel, Mr Galant - who oversaw the 2008 war with Hamas in Gaza - said that while political assassination is both illegal and impractical, “Anyone who murders people and burns their corpses does not have a place in this world.”

Mr Galant's comments come in the wake of accusations from the US State Department of mass executions at the regime’s notorious Sadnaya prison, after which the buries were burned or deposed of in mass graves. Up to 50 people a day are believed to be routinely subject to extrajudicial killings, the intelligence found.

“We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place,” Stuart Jones, the US’ acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters in Washington DC.

The findings showed the Syrian government has “sunk to a new level of depravity,” he said. 

The Assad government’s actions - included the alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians in rebel-held areas - have killed hundreds of thousands and amount to a “genocide”, Mr Galant continued, in the strongest comments to date on the Syrian president from a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. 

On Tuesday a spokesperson for Syria’s Foreign Ministry denied the US’ allegations regarding Sadnaya, a huge prison complex outside Damascus.

A January Amnesty International report into Syria’s prisons also concluded that torture and mass execution by hanging were commonplace in the six-year-old civil war.

Up to 13,000 people had been killed in Sadnaya alone, the rights watchdog said.

While Israel largely stays out of the complicated conflict next door, the border region is restive and authorities have retaliated to occasional stray rockets with reprisals.

Intermittent Israeli air strikes in Syrian territory in the last few years have aimed to prevent weapons smuggling to Iranian-allied Lebanese group Hezbollah, which fights alongside Bashar al-Assad’s government against Syria’s rebels, although the IDF does not comment on the nature of the missions. Hezbollah, like Iran, is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel is expected to pressure the US to do more to combat Iranian influence in the region during President Donald Trump’s visit to the region next week. 

Syria’s war entered its seventh year in March. The fighting has driven 11 million people from their homes and left almost 500,000 dead, the UN says.

A sixth round of UN-mediated peace talks began in Geneva, Switzerland on Tuesday, but hopes of a major breakthrough in the peace process are not high.