AMMAN: A Jaish al-Islam spokesman defended placing Syrian army officers and their families in cages and putting them in outdoor markets and on rooftops throughout Douma on Monday, calling the tactic a “powerful bargaining chip” that has lessened regime bombardments of the de facto capital of rebel-held East Ghouta.
Video and images released by Jaish al-Islam Sunday show regime prisoners in large cages being transported to different sites around Douma.
Pro-opposition media supported the move, launching the Arabic hashtag “#CagesOfProtection.”
“After the cages were set out, the bombardment lessened to a certain extent and not a single one of the cages was hit by regime bombardment on Sunday,” Jaish al-Islam spokesman Hamza al-Birqdar told Syria Direct on Monday, calling the cages a “powerful bargaining chip.”
Captured regime soldiers in a cage in Douma on Monday. Photo courtesy of Douma Revolution's.
A second senior Jaish al-Islam (JAI) official said via Facebook on Monday that the prisoners were not being used as human shields.
“The cages in Ghouta are not human shields to protect combatants, but rather have been placed among civilians to protect them,” posted Muhammad Aloush, the director of JAI’s political office.
International human rights organizations “know very well that hospitals have been bombed in Douma…and besieged houses and markets destroyed for three years, and they have done nothing.”
Regime rocket attacks on Douma killed six civilians and injured dozens more on Monday, reported pro-opposition Eldorar.
Whose war crime is bigger?
“The cage idea has been met with criticism by some and support from others, but what alternatives do we have to protect our children from death in Ghouta?” asked Haitham Bikar, a civilian living in Douma. Any idea, no matter how “trivial or dramatic,” is worth trying and “is preferable to mourning,” Bikar told Syria Direct on Monday.
The regime has bombarded Douma dozens of times in recent days, calling it “impossible to calculate how many due to the large number,” says Bikar.
One airstrike over the weekend hit a crowded market in Douma, killing at least 70 people and injuring 550 others, reported Médecins sans Frontières on Saturday.
The scale of casualties over the weekend, most of whom are civilians, reportedly led rebels in East Ghouta to scatter “nearly 100 cages in public spaces and markets” holding “captured Alawite officers and their wives,” Ammar al-Hassan, a journalist affiliated with Jaish al-Islam, told Syria Direct on Monday.
Pro-regime and official media have not acknowledged intensified air strikes over Douma, the seat of Jaish al-Islam located 10km northwest of Damascus.
Meanwhile, regime attacks have killed 228 people since the beginning of October, according to a report published by pro-opposition AlSouria on Monday.
“Even though the idea of cages didn’t please me, they have lessened the intensity of the regime bombardment,” Abd al-Haqq, a citizen journalist in Douma, told Syria Direct on Monday, adding that regime bombings were “much lighter than in the previous days.”
“I see [it] as a good step, even though I don’t believe it will deter the regime,” said Muhammad Khobbiah, an activist from Douma city.
Others deny that the policy has changed anything, including a doctor in Douma who says he is “against” the policy.
“I don’t think this method will succeed in stopping the bombardment of the city. Today [Monday], between 8 and 9am this morning, more than 30 injured were brought to our medical stations, not to mention a number of dead,” said the doctor, who requested anonymity.
The director of an organization charged with documenting human rights abuses in Syria, who preferred to remain anonymous, called the use of cages “a war crime,” but balanced it against the “bigger war crime” of deliberately targeting civilians.
“According to international law, this behavior is a war crime and could be seen as using civilians as human shields,” the director told Syria Direct on Monday.
“On the other hand, the Syrian regime’s bombardment is a bigger war crime and is a crime against humanity because it is widespread and methodological.”