Monitor: Hundreds freed in Syria prisoner amnesty
BEIRUT — Hundreds of Syrians have been released from government prisons after an amnesty granted by President Bashar Al-Assad to mark his re-election this week, a monitoring group said Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 320 prisoners were released from northern Aleppo Central prison on Wednesday as Assad’s victory in presidential elections was announced.
The Britain-based group said 480 other prisoners, including 80 women, would be freed from Adra prison in Damascus province.
Several dozen were freed Friday from Adra, while the rest of the 480 slated to walk free were transferred to a municipal building pending their release, the monitoring group said.
The Observatory said that all the Adra prisoners to be released had been held on charges of “terrorism,” a term the government uses for those involved in the uprising.
An estimated 18,000 people are being held in Syria’s prisons.
Around 3,500 detainees are believed to be held at Aleppo’s Central prison, which rebels have repeatedly attacked since April 2013.
Last month, Syrian troops ended a year-long rebel siege of the prison, with tanks and armored vehicles rolling into the grounds of the sprawling facility.
Conditions inside the prison are reportedly dire, and the Observatory says 600 prisoners have died there because of lack of food and medicine as well as bombardment.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, citing lawyers for detainees, told AFP that the prisoner releases were reportedly a post-election “gesture” by Assad.
He won a new seven-year term with nearly 90 percent of votes cast in Tuesday’s election, which the opposition and much of the international community have slammed as a “farce.”
Assad faced two little known candidates in the election.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has said Assad’s re-election this week proves that any solution to the country’s conflict “begins and ends” with the embattled leader.
“The elections proved that a political solution in Syria begins and ends with President Bashar Al-Assad,” Nasrallah, a key ally of Assad’s regime, said in a televised address.
Assad won a new seven-year term in the country’s first multi-candidate presidential vote on Tuesday, scooping nearly 90 percent in an election dismissed by the opposition and its international backers as a “farce.”
Nasrallah dismissed the opposition key demand of Assad’s departure from office as a condition for any peace agreement.
“There is a president who has been elected by millions for a new seven-year term,” he said.
“Those who want to work for a political solution must talk to him, negotiate with him and reach a solution with him.”
Nasrallah, who has sent Hezbollah fighters to Syria to battle alongside Assad’s regime, called for an end to bloodshed and new negotiations.
“We call on combatants … to move towards reconciliation and dialogue, looking for political exits to stop the bloodshed,” he said.
“This fighting will only increase destruction in your country and add to the bloodshed,” he said, addressing the opposition.
“Everyone should recognize and acknowledge that war in Syria will not lead to others taking control of it,” he said, ruling out regime change through conflict.
The conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against Assad’s rule and spiraled into a bloody war that has killed more than 162,000 people.
Nasrallah said Assad’s re-election was a “political and popular declaration of the failure of war,” and said any solution required an “end to the support of extremist groups in Syria.”