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Human Rights Watch: Child Soldiers Fighting in Syrian Opposition

Human Rights Watch: Child Soldiers Fighting in Syrian Opposition
Ziad Haidar
A new piece of video footage has emerged to remind Syrians of their own stark and harsh reality.

The video has sparked debate over whether the resounding battle outside and near the homes of Syrians is merely a battle between “a repressive regime and people seeking freedom,” or a single phase in a series of gruesome scenes which many Syrians don’t believe are a product of their own nation.

Amid the cheers of men, a young boy was egged on as he lifted an axe, half his height, and chopped off the head of an “infidel” pro-government man — a human being. The boy struck many blows until the head was separated from the body.

“A Syrian killed another Syrian.” Many rebels saw the horrific scene as simply as this. Some people have turned a blind eye to it, refraining from defending or attacking what happened.

Others defended the young boy, the Syrian murderer, while many showed sympathy for the victim — who could be an innocent man or a professional assassin — yet another Syrian citizen. As a consequence, Syria itself has become the secret Military Field Court.

Perhaps some Syrians would like to claim that the horrors taking place in Syria do not stem from the Syrian ideology. However, the harsh reality is that this type of horrid thinking has become widespread, prevailing in the areas that are no longer under the government’s control.

The Zabadani coordination committee has recently criticized “the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Idlib for torturing several people with incendiary materials that caused them permanent scars. They were charged with supporting the regime. Once they are found innocent, detainees would be released.”

The president of the committee is an Islamic educator who used to live in Sharjah but returned to Syria to “perform the sacred duty of jihad.”

The clip of the adolescent executioner appeared on the Internet page of Brig. Khaled Bin al-Walid, who is currently in northern Homs, specifically in the area of al-Rastan.

The footage was also broadcast by the Syrian television channel Sama, along with the confessions of a member of the group who said that “what they committed does not stem from the teachings of Islam.”

Another video was also broadcast by Saleh al-Aktaa, a correspondent for the Syrian Radio station Sham FM, which enjoys wide coverage in Idlib.

The video shows the young man, who was kidnapped two months ago, in dire conditions. He has sunken cheeks, has lost all his teeth and has bruises all over his body. The correspondent declared in the clip that he will join “the revolution’s media.”

Previous video footage failed to attract much media attention, perhaps because they were broadcast on local channels. However, this latest clip was uploaded to YouTube after being edited down and previously deleted from the Internet at least twice.

The original version of the video not only shows the boy beheading captives, but also a “cleansing” process taking place at the crime scene. Decapitated heads were picked up and placed on top of their bodies for swap deals, as victims were abducted individuals or prisoners. Afterwards, a group photo is taken with the child, who looks older than his age. The video ends with the inevitable, necessary phrase: “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great).

Some pro-opposition members defended the piece of video footage that re-emerged the day before yesterday [Dec.10] and become widely spread. They argued that the young boy ended up becoming what he is because of the regime’s violence. Others boasted about the necessity of revenge and were pleased by the video.

However, the most profound comment came from one of many women that were shocked by the video. “Now I totally understand that Syria is finished. Do not tell me there is still hope. It is over, at least for me,” she said.

Similar comments were all over the Internet, along with heated debates about those purporting to demonstrate the horrors of what is happening in Syria.

There is no clear reason why the clip has re-emerged amid the chaos of many disturbing piece of video footage designed to serve different causes.

However, the video coincided — inadvertently or not — with a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) showing that armed opposition groups in Syria are using children in combat and other military purposes.

“Children as young as 14 have served in at least three opposition brigades, transporting weapons and supplies and acting as lookouts, Human Rights Watch found, and children as young as 16 have carried arms and taken combat roles against government forces,” according to the report.

The humanitarian organization met with “five boys between the ages of 14 and 16 who said they had worked with the armed opposition in Homs, Daraa and Khirbet al-Jawz, a small Idlib town near the Turkish border. Three of the boys, all aged 16, said they carried weapons. One said he received military training and participated in attack missions. Two boys — aged 14 and 15 — said they, together with other boys, supported opposition brigades by conducting reconnaissance or transporting weapons and supplies. In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed three Syrian parents who said their sons under 18 had remained in Syria to fight.”

The calls to join the fight are not limited to Syria alone. Male children of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries remain prone to conscription and engagement in fights. HRW saw older men encouraging young boys to join the opposition armed forces. The organization also checked several pieces of video footage online, including clips of the Free Syrian Army brigades uploaded onto Facebook and YouTube, showing child fighters and “martyrs,” and others of children saying they want to die as martyrs.

A representative of an international organization helping Syrian refugees in Jordan told HRW that “FSA groups come to Zaatari refugee camp, spreading the message that it is not right to remain in the camp while others are fighting in Syria.”

The children’s mission is not limited to combat alone. They contribute to ambushes, follow-up and surveillance missions, and take part in assassination operations and logistics. Raed, a 14-year-old boy, told the non-governmental organization that he used to transport weapons, food and other necessary supplies to the opposition fighters in the town of Kherbet al-Jouz, near the Turkish border.

The organization said that those children hail from impoverished environments and most of them did not know how to read and write. According to undocumented testimonies, the Syrian army raiding units were encountered by rebel fighters, including children, particularly in the regions of Deir al-Zour and Idlib.

It must be noted that the international organization received promises from defected Colonel Riad al-Assaad, who was until recently one of the FSA’s most prominent leaders, to prevent the conscription of children. However, his promises were not fulfilled.

Human Rights Watch calls on “the nations funding the opposition groups and providing them with weapons to urge the FSA to stop recruiting individuals under 18 years of age in any military purpose, whether as combatants on the battleground or in supporting roles.”

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