Syria rebels using caged captives as 'human shields'
A major Syrian rebel group is using dozens of captives in metal cages as "human shields" in the largest opposition stronghold on the outskirts of Damascus, a monitor said Sunday.
Jaish al-Islam, regarded as the most powerful rebel group near the capital, has put regime soldiers and Alawite civilians it was holding in metal cages, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP. However, other reports say that it was likely that many of the prisoners were not in fact Alawi.
|Jaish al-Islam is using these captives and kidnapped people - including whole families - as human shields
- Rami Abdel Rahman
The group placed these cages in public squares in the Eastern Ghouta region in an attempt to "prevent regime bombardment", Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
"Jaish al-Islam is using these captives and kidnapped people - including whole families - as human shields," he said.
Government forces regularly bombard the Eastern Ghouta area, from where rebel groups fire rockets into the capital.
A video published by opposition news outlet Shaam Network showed cages of men and women, about five people in each, being transported on the backs of three lorries through war-ravaged streets as young children rode by on bicycles.
Speaking to camera, both men and women asked government forces to stop shelling Eastern Ghouta.
"Your women are our women. If you want to kill my mother, you will kill them too," a dark-eyed teenage boy said outside one of the trucks.
Abdel Rahman said most of the civilians were kidnapped by Jaish al-Islam two years ago outside Adra al-Ummaliyah, a regime-held neighbourhood in Eastern Ghouta. A Jaish al-Islam spokesman was not reachable for comment.
Both regime forces and rebel groups have been criticised by rights groups for indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Syria's war, which has killed more than 250,000 people since it began in March 2011.
A hashtag on social media, Cages of Protection, spread to highlight images of the caged prisoners.
One of the prisoners in the cage was filmed calling for Assad to stop the airstrikes.
|— Onlinemagazin (@OnlineMagazin) November 1, 2015 " style="color:#fff;" class="twitter-post-link" target="_blank">Twitter Post
Many pro-revolution activists criticised this as a “PR” disaster, pointing out that Jaish al-Islam is especially known for its sectarian stance.
The Observatory said government troops have also used the practice in majority-Shia villages in the northern rebel-held province of Idlib.
The government-allied troops locked rebels and allied civilians in cages, putting them on building rooftops to prevent rebel shelling of the besieged villages, the Observatory said.
At least 70, mostly civilians, were killed after a government barrage of missiles hit a Douma market Friday, according to Medicin Sans Frontiers [MSF]. Around 550 others were injured. The graphic video of the aftermath of the bombing was also widely shared on social media.