More than 93,000 Syrians have been killed since peaceful Syrian protesters first demonstrated for political reform in March 2011 and were violently attacked by government forces.
In testimony before Congress, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas Melia said the regime of Bashar al-Assad “is by far responsible for the most crimes against humanity in Syria.”
He noted that a significant aspect of the devastating conflict taking place is the rending of Syria’s rich tapestry of religious and ethnic groups, which include Sunnis, Alawis, Ismailis, Shia, Druze, and several Christian communities.
“The regime has provoked and attempted to divide Syria’s population by driving a wedge between these minorities and the Sunni majority,” Mr. Melia said. “The regime continues to target faith groups it deems a threat, including members of the country’s Sunni majority and numerous religious minorities.”
He called the attack on the city of Qusair in early June “a dangerous new precedent of direct sectarian threats by Hezbollah’s forces fighting at the behest of the regime.”
Al-Qaida-linked groups and other violent extremists have also engaged in human rights abuses, with reports of massacres of Shia civilians. Christians, too, have been persecuted -- threatened with death if they do not join the opposition, driven from their homes and killed en masse as presumed regime supporters.
In April Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi were kidnapped by unknown persons, and remain missing. In June, a 15-year old boy in Aleppo was executed by extremists for blasphemy.
We stand with the Syrian people today with ongoing and increasing efforts to strengthen the opposition and civil society..."
Mr. Melia said these extremists do not reflect the mindset of the vast majority of the Syrian people or of the active Syrian opposition, and their actions “should not be conflated with the efforts by the moderate opposition, including the Supreme Military Council, to seek an end to the Assad regime and to facilitate an orderly political transition.”
Deputy Secretary Melia said the United States is committed to ensuring that the assistance it is providing the opposition in Syria reaches its intended targets and does not end up in the hands of extremists.
“The United States stood with the Syrian people at the outset of this conflict,” he said. “We stand with the Syrian people today with ongoing and increasing efforts to strengthen the opposition and civil society... until we can together welcome a new Syria, where the Syrian people can enjoy a free, stable and democratic country.”