WASHINGTON – As the Syrian government braces for a possible U.S. attack in response to the gas attacks on civilians near Damascus, there are increasing indications that its leadership is positioning people as human shields around sensitive targets.
Sources say that the Syrian leadership has begun to place thousands of prisoners at sites thought to be targets of the U.S. cruise missiles that would be expected should President Barack Obama go ahead with a “limited” response to what the U.S. administration believes was the use of poison gas on Syrian citizens on Aug. 21 in a region on the outskirts of Damascus.
The immediate concern is that with distant targeting of military sites, the United States may not have the timely intelligence to avoid sites surrounded by people, thereby resulting in further mass casualties.
In one case, prisoners have been seen being bused from prisons to the military sites.
According to one tweet, “thousands of prisoners are inside the Mezzeh Military airport hangers, gym and other facilities.”
“(Syrian President Bashar) Al-Assad’s fascist regime is amassing activists and civilians in prisons in military locations that may be targets for foreign forces,” according to a statement of the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition.
“Using civilians as human shields is a breach of international humanitarian law and those responsible must be held accountable for crimes against humanity,” the statement said.
In addition to thousands of prisoners, the human shield includes protesters, rebel fighters and political dissidents.
Because of the Obama administration’s act of telegraphing its strike intentions, without any action so far, the Syrian leadership has had time to prepare, vacating sensitive facilities and moving military assets including missiles and artillery and command and control facilities.
In addition, there is a mass movement of refugees from Syria to Lebanon through the Masnaa border crossing. What had been 3,000 a week has swelled to more than 10,000 refugees a week because of concern of a U.S. attack.
Other sources in Damascus have told WND that the Syrian leadership also has appealed to outsiders to come to Syria voluntarily to act as a human shield around various military sites thought to be potential targets of U.S. Tomahawks.
In what appears to be a worldwide appeal, an effort is under way to get peace protesters from various countries, including the United States and Australia, to come to Syria.
“The government in Syria is very interested in the human shield matter,” one source told WND.
The question is whether they can come in time.
Efforts are under way to get notable personalities such as former Rep. Dennis Kucinich and peace protester Cindy Sheehan and protesters from Code Pink to be part of the human shield.
Kuchnich is known to be opposed to any military action in Syria and is well known to the Syrian leadership.
Cindy Sheehan is an an American anti-war activist whose son, U.S. Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed in action during the Iraq war. She received international notoriety in August 2005 with her extended anti-war protests outside the Texas ranch of then-President George W. Bush.
She also is known as a harsh critic of Obama’s foreign policy.
Code Pink protesters, who describe themselves as “grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S.-funded wars,” have waged primarily domestic protests and marches and conducted high-visibility publicity stunts.
They have been very active in protests in the use of drones.
There also is an effort to get a major reconciliation group out of Australia which had visited Syria last May to look to ways to get the Syrian government and the opposition to halt the two-year-old civil war and work on reforms.
At the time, Syrian government officials said they were prepared to do that, but foreign fighters sponsored by external forces such as the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were hampering that effort.
At the time, Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi told the group the government was prepared to institute reforms the opposition sought but its forces were under continuous attack from the foreign fighters who are Islamist militants such as Jabhat al-Nusra affiliated with al-Qaida.
Sources add that the Syrian government is so eager for these international volunteers to arrive that it is putting up the money for their transportation to Syria and room and board.