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Syrian Government Demolishes Thousands of Homes: Report

Masha al-Arb’een In Hama
Two satellite images released by Human Rights Watch shows the Masha al-Arb’een neighborhood in Hama, Syria on Sept. 28, 2012, left, and on Oct. 13, 2012. Photographer: Human Rights Watch via Digital Globe via AP Photo

Syrian government forces using bulldozers and explosives razed thousands of homes in rebel areas of the country -- an area equivalent to about 200 soccer fields, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Many of the demolished buildings were apartment blocks several stories high, some with as many as eight levels, covering a total area of at least 145 hectares (358 acres), the New York-based organization said in a report today titled “Razed to the Ground: Syria’s Unlawful Neighborhood Demolitions.” Satellite photos released by the organization showed inhabited areas in Damascus and Hama reduced to rubble, some in the space of a month.

“In some areas, the entire neighborhood has been flattened, it disappeared as if it never even existed,” Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in an interview. The destruction is not a consequence of fighting, “We can tell from the satellite imagery that it is systematic and complete,” he said.

The report was published as Syria’s government and rebels continued peace talks in Geneva that United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said yesterday had produced no substantive results so far. The UN is leading international efforts to bring an end to Syria’s three-year war, which has killed at least 130,000 people and caused 2.4 million to flee their homeland.

All the affected neighborhoods were considered by the authorities and by witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch to be opposition strongholds, according to the report. They include the areas of Masha al-Arbeen and Wadi al-Jouz in Hama, and the Qaboun, Tadamoun, Barzeh, Mezzeh military airport, and Harran Al-Awamid districts in and near Damascus.

The demolitions occurred between July 2012 and November last year, Solvang said, and may have continued since that time though the group is seeking to confirm this.

The report is based on detailed analysis of 15 “very-high resolution” commercial satellite images and interviews with 16 witnesses to the demolitions and owners whose houses were demolished. The group said it also reviewed government decrees and videos on YouTube.

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