Syria government wiping out neighbourhoods: Rights group

London, Jan 30 (IANS) The Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad has demolished thousands of buildings, in some cases entire neighbourhoods, in parts of the capital Damascus and Hama city, said a Human Rights Watch report released Thursday.

The demolitions took place as part of a collective punishment to residents of rebel-held areas, The Guardian quoted a researcher at Human Rights Watch as saying.
“Wiping entire neighbourhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These unlawful demolitions are the latest additions to a long list of crimes committed by the Syrian government.”
None of the destruction was caused during combat, said the report. It added that the buildings were systematically destroyed using bulldozers and explosives were placed by troops who first ordered residents to leave, then supervised the demolitions.
Human Rights Watch used satellite imagery from over both cities and compiled a dramatic series of before and after shots that it says show 145 hectares where the state policy has caused near-total destruction.
The Syrian regime has claimed that the demolitions were part of an urban planning programme that aimed to remove illegally constructed buildings. But Human Rights Watch claims the motivation was instead to punish residents of areas that were deemed to be sympathetic to opposition groups.
Claims of widespread abuses have been routinely levelled by the government and the opposition during almost three years of war in Syria, which has killed more than 130,000 and displaced close to 8 million people.
Hama is the provincial capital of the Hama governorate, about 215 km north of Damascus, where former president Hafez al-Assad killed tens of thousands of residents and wiped out neighbourhoods over several days in 1982, the British daily said.