SYRIA: Cartoonist beaten, Human Rights Watch disputes Assad pledge
At least 12 people were killed across the country between Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a network of Syrian opposition activists. Additionally, Syria's army conducted raids on Thursday in the town of Bokamal on the Iraq border, activists said.
In the capital, Damascus, attackers abducted and beat a prominent Syrian cartoonist, who was found bleeding along the city's airport road. A photo released by activists after the attack showed cartoonist Ali Ferzat, 60, in a hospital bed, with his head and both hands swathed in bandages.
Activists blamed government security forces and pro-regime men known as shabiha.
The cartoonist, one of the best-known in the Middle East, had become increasingly critical of the Syrian regime and had begun addressing the uprising against Assad in his drawings. One of his recent cartoons depicts Assad painting railway tracks to escape from a train approaching him at fast pace.
Several Facebook groups sprang up Thursday in solidarity with the artist.
Also Thursday, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch released a new report on Syria called "Setting the Record Straight.'' The report challenges the Syrian regime's accounts of the current state of the crackdown.
The organization sought to debunk the impression that the Syrian authorities have ended the military crackdown since Aug. 17, when Assad pledged to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon that "military and policing operations had stopped.”
The report claimed that at least 49 people have been killed in operations across Syria since that phone call.
"That same day, and in the days that followed, Syrian forces attacked peaceful protesters in Homs, Latakia, towns in the governorate of Daraa, and suburbs of Damascus," said the report. "On August 19 alone, 31 protesters were killed by Syrian security forces, including 3 children, according to local activists."
The report also explored the "myth" that Syrian troops need to use lethal force to put down armed groups, saying that only a small number of demonstrators have used force and that there is no real organized armed opposition.
The Syrian government has insisted throughout the uprising against Assad, now in its fifth month, that it is fighting obscure armed groups.
A report by Syria's state-run SANA news agency alleged that seven members of the army were killed in ambushes by "armed terrorist groups" in areas near Homs on Wednesday.
The Syrian government says hundreds of army and security personnel have been killed by armed gangs over the last months. Human Rights Watch says "there are credible accounts" that those Syrian troops were killed by other members of the security forces.
"Security force members who defected have told Human Rights Watch of cases in which soldiers who defected or refused to take up arms were shot by officers, for example. The Syrian government has not published a list of dead security forces, while anti-government activists have compiled a list of 394 security members killed," said the report.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Prominent Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat at his Damascus gallery. Activists say he was kidnapped, beaten up, and dumped on a road by Syrian security forces on Thursday. Credit: Khaled Hariri / Reuters