Syria Direct: News Update 7-2-15


July 2, 2015

After civilian protests, amnesty for East Ghouta prisoners

The United Military Command (UMC) in Damascus’s regime-encircled East Ghouta announced a general amnesty on Wednesday for detainees held in its jails, days after civilian protestors called for their release and the fall of Zahran Aloush, the commander of Jaish al-Islam (JAI) and leader of the UMC.

Aloush returned to the blockaded east Damascus suburbs after a long absence on Wednesday, having left months before on a tour of JAI positions in Idlib and Latakia as well as a visit to Jordan and Turkey for “political, civil and revolutionary activities,” JAI spokesman Islam Aloush posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

Activists on the ground see the amnesty as a way for Aloush to both assuage citizens and assert Jaish al-Islam’s control over rebel-held Ghouta, just east of Damascus.

“It is as though Aloush is speaking through the decision, saying ‘I am present, and my presence means that everything has a solution, and things are going well,’” a civilian activist from the East Ghouta city of Douma, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

The amnesty applies to all crimes that took place before Wednesday, according to the terms of the amnesty decree posted to an official United Military Command Twitter account.

It does not extend to detainees accused of belonging to the Islamic State, collaboration with the regime, murder, forgery and homosexuality.

Three days of civilian demonstrations earlier this week calling for JAI detainees’ release and criticizing Aloush saw several protesters arrested by JAI forces, the same Douma activist told Syria Direct, though the terms of the amnesty apply to them as well.

The text of the UMC general amnesty signed by Zahran Aloush. Photo courtesy of General Leadership.

Monitoring group: nearly 11,100 deaths in first half of 2015

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) monitoring group published a report on Wednesday placing the number of Syrian casualties during the first half of this year at nearly 11,100 individuals, not including regime casualties.

Regime forces and its allies killed more than 8,500 people, only 19 percent of whom were combatants, the group said. Idlib province had the highest number of those killed by government forces.

Kurdish People’s Protection Units also (YPG) killed nearly 70 civilians and an unknown number of combatants, while the Islamic State and Jabhat a-Nusra together killed nearly 1,500 people, 70 percent of them civilians.

Other armed opposition forces killed more than 600 people, 96 percent of whom were civilians, although this number does not include regime forces killed because of difficulty in accessing accurate and verifiable statistics, SNHR said.

Statistics for all of the groups included multiple cases of those killed under torture.

WFP halves food aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

The United Nations World Food Program has cut the value of its food vouchers to refugees in Lebanon in half for July to $13.50 per person per month, as a result of a lack of funding, according to an WFP statement Wednesday.

“Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide” before the cuts, Muhannad Hadi, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, was quoted in the statement as saying.

WFP’s regional refugee operations requires $139 million USD to continue providing refugees aid through the summer until September. 

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