Villagers 'forced into human shield for Assad's soldiers'

Syrian regime accused of abusing civilians as Russia backs Annan's plan to end bloodshed

The Syrian regime was accused yesterday of using civilians as
human shields, as the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, pledged
his nation's full support for Kofi Annan's plan to end the turmoil
in the country.

The Russian leader said the former UN chief's proposal could be the "last chance" to avoid a long and bloody civil war.

He spoke as details emerged of the way Syrian forces have allegedly used civilians to shield troops advancing on rebel towns. Ghalib, an activist from a village in Idlib province, told The Independent how he had watched with binoculars from a hillside as President Bashar al Assad's forces rolled in earlier this month to wrest control from the Free Syrian Army.

He described a group of about 20 civilians, some elderly, some as young as seven or eight years old, being marched with their heads bowed along the dusty road into the Syrian village of Al-Janoudyah earlier this month. Behind them came uniformed gun-toting soldiers, and then a convoy of tanks.

"They used the people like a wall in front of the tanks," Ghalib told The Independent. "There are a few houses that circle my village, and when Assad's army came in they knocked on the doors and took the people in those houses – women, men, children – and made them walk in front."

The practice of using civilians as human shields, to protect troops and to make them take the first deadly steps on to any roadside bombs, has been commonplace in certain towns in the restive province as the government has sought to restore its authority in recent weeks, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Ahmed, a resident of the agricultural town of Kafr Nabl, told HRW that he was forced to walk in front of armoured personnel carriers as they searched for opposition activists. "They took maybe 25 people. There were also eight children," he said. "They were insulting us the whole time."

With reporters denied access to the country, reports are difficult to verify, but several videos posted online appear to show the army using such tactics.

"Putting civilians at risk in this way is a clear violation of international human rights law," said Ole Solvang, a HRW researcher who helped compile the report.

Meanwhile, following a meeting with Mr Annan in Moscow, Mr Medvedev pledged "full support at any level" for his mission to end a conflict that has claimed an estimated 8,000 lives, although some analysts questioned whether there had been any genuine change in Moscow's position towards its long-standing ally.

The former UN Secretary General is pushing a six-point peace plan which demands an immediate cease-fire and access for humanitarian aid.

"This may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war," Mr Medvedev said.

Russia, along with China, has already supported a UN statement backing Mr Annan's mission, a move that some had hoped was an indication of a softening stance from Syria's veto-wielding allies on the UN Security Council. However, on Friday the two countries voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning "sharply escalating" violations by Syrian forces.

Emile Hokayem, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, dismissed Russia's pledge yesterday as "theatrics" that merely bought time for Damascus. "Short of intervention the Russians have done everything they can to support Assad," he said. "I'm very sceptical that their position has changed. The Annan plan does not call for Assad to devolve power and if anything it gives him the time and space to continue his repression."

President Assad has said he cannot consider a cease-fire while the country is under attack from "terrorist" gangs, which the government claims have killed more than 3,000 security forces.

The diplomatic efforts by Mr Annan, who will now travel to China to shore up support, came as activists reported heavy shelling and mortar fire in the Old City, Khalidya and Hamidiya districts of Homs. One activist described thick black smoke across the city's skyline and that "everything's shaking". Another said it was the worst shelling he had seen in the central city, reporting nine dead.

There were also reports of clashes between army defectors and troops in the city of Nawa in the southern Deraa province, and a dawn attack by rebels on a military base near Damascus. In the northern city of Aazaz, near the Turkish border, at least two people were reportedly killed by rocket fire as Syrian helicopters flew overhead.

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam