Experts have warned that the Isis militant group cannot be beaten without regime change in Syria, after a group of defectors revealed the horrors they had witnessed at the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Speaking to Germany’s Bild am Sonntag, a doctor, a pathologist, a judge and a chemical weapons official from within the Syrian regime spoke about the atrocities they saw committed – and their frustration at the lack of attention from the international community.
One defector, identified as 44-year-old Dr Mohamad F., was a coroner at the University Hospital in Aleppo until he tried to flee and was arrested on charges of being “a terrorist threat”.
“I have suffered, but it’s nothing compared to the pain other prisoners have gone through. I have seen policemen rape women and children in front of other detainees,” he said.
Dr Abed Tawab Shahrour, 50, then the university’s chief pathologist, told Bild he had witnessed and documented repeated evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. He said he had testified for an hour to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and was amazed nothing was being done to intervene.
“I've seen bodies turned blue, people foaming at the mouth who have died in agony, choking to death,” he said. “I have seen more than 3,000 victims of cold-blooded murder. All of them died a senseless death.”
In pictures: Syria conflict
In pictures: Syria conflict
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Syrians carry children amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl on a street covered with dust following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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Syrians react as they stand amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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An injured Syrian man walks out from the rubble of a destroyed building following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian woman makes her way through debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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People stand on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood of Aleppo
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Syrian residents stand amid the rubble of destroyed buildings
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A Syrian resident grasps a mattress amid rubble in the al-Firdous neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo
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A bullet-riddled parking sign stands amid debris in a deserted street leading into the old city of Homs
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A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas
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A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years
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Buses carrying Free Syrian Army fighters leaving Homs. Exhausted and worn out from a year-long siege, hundreds of Syrian rebels left their last remaining bastions in the heart of the central city of Homs under a cease-fire deal with government forces. The exit of some 1,200 fighters and civilians will mark a de facto end of the rebellion in the battered city, which was one of the first places to rise up against President Bashar Assad's rule, earning it the nickname of "capital of the revolution"
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Syrian government forces hold up a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad (L) while others raise the national flag on top of a pole in the old city of Homs
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad run through Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr crossing after their release by rebels. They were freed as part of a larger deal which saw the last remaining Syrian rebels in central Homs city evacuate their positions and free captives in several locations in northern Syria
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A Syrian woman and two children walk past heavily damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo
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A man carries a wounded girl following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Mowasalat neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A wounded man sits as he is treated at a makeshift hospital following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Sakhour district of the northern city of Aleppo
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Debris rises in what Free Syrian Army fighters and Islamic rebels said was an operation to strike Al-Sahaba checkpoint, which is considered a gateway to Al-Dayf valley, and remove forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Maarat Al-Nouman, Idlib province
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Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Civil Defence members try to put out fire
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Survivors react at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Residents queue as they wait to receive food aid distributed by the UNRWA at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus
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Belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle in Syria. The village was destroyed in fighting between the government and rebel forces while the castle, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, also has been damaged over the past two years
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Hosen Sabah, a 16-year-old student is comforted by his mother at a hospital in Damascus. Nosen was wounded by a mortar outside his school, while 14 other students were killed and over 80 wounded
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A Free Syrian Army fighter works on a locally made launcher before firing it towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Mork town
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Syrian policemen and citizens inspecting the site of a car bomb at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus. According to Syria's Arab News Agency (SANA), a car bomb explosion has gone off in the countryside of Damascus and initial information say there are casualties, where a car rigged with explosions was remotely detonated at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus during engineering units it was trying to dismantled it
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Opposition fighters carrying a rocket launcher during clashes against government forces in the Sheikh Lutfi area, west of the airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man helps a woman to make her way through debris following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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A Syrian man reacts as he carries the body of injured boy following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 33 civilians were killed in the attack
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Syrian rescue workers carry the body of a woman following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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Syrians gather at the site of reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
Bild also spoke to a judge who was ordered to send demonstrators – including children – to jail, and that “the accusation should always be ‘terrorism’”.
And Brigadier General Zaher al-Saket, the former head of the Chemical Weapons Research Centre of the 5th Division of the Syrian military, told the newspaper only Assad had the authority to approve chemical attacks – and that he still has half his nerve gas stockpile.
“To my knowledge, the regime continues to use chlorine gas and chloroacetophenone,” he said. “Bashar doesn’t even have to sign off on it anymore.”
Speaking to The Independent, Dr Andreas Krieg from King’s College’s Department of Defence Studies said the defectors’ testimony was a stark reminder of the need for the West to “not just focus on fighting isis”.
“Five years of apathy have created the situation we find ourselves in at the moment,” he said.
“Forgetting about the institutionalised atrocities of the Assad regime only aggravates the situation on the ground. Bombing Isis from the air while turning a blind eye to Assad will just slightly shift the balance of power in Syria – where the civilian population is effectively trapped between the Assad regime and Isis.
“The removal of Isis necessitates the removal of Assad and a positive long-term engagement with moderate rebel groups including moderate Islamist groups. Because only these groups can actually make a difference for the population on the ground.”Reuse content