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Assad regrets shooting of Turkish jet

Says he will not allow ‘armed conflict’ to arise

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2012

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad said he regrets the shooting down of a Turkish jet by his forces, and that he will not allow tensions between the two neighbors to deteriorate into an "armed conflict," a Turkish newspaper reported Tuesday.

Syria downed the RF-4E warplane June 22. Syria says it hit the aircraft after it flew very low inside its airspace, while Turkey says the jet was hit in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syria.

In an interview with the Cumhuriyet daily, Mr. Assad offered no apology, insisting that the plane was shot down over Syria and that his forces acted in self-defense.

He said the plane was flying in a corridor inside Syrian airspace that had been used by Israeli planes in 2007, when they bombed a building under construction in northern Syria.

The U.N. nuclear agency has said the building was a nearly finished reactor meant to produce plutonium, which can be used to arm nuclear warheads.

"The plane was using the same corridor used by Israeli planes three times in the past," Mr. Assad told Cumhuriyet. "Soldiers shot it down because we did not see it on our radars and we were not informed about it.

"I say 100 percent, I wish we did not shoot it down."

The conflict in Syria has killed more than 14,000 people since the revolt began in March 2011, according to opposition estimates. The fighting has grown increasingly militarized in recent months, with rebel forces launching attacks and ambushes on regime targets.

Meanwhile, an international rights group said Syrian security forces are running more than two dozen torture centers where captors regularly punch staples into detainees' skin, tear out their fingernails, beat them with sticks, and administer electric shocks to their genitals and other body parts.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the frequency of torture in Syrian detention centers could constitute crimes against humanity and called for international action.

"The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture that Human Rights Watch documented clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity," the group said.

It called on the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and to impose sanctions on those who practice or oversee torture.

The Syrian government did not immediately comment on the allegations.

Human Rights Watch released the findings Tuesday in a 78-page report based on interviews with more than 200 army defectors and former detainees since the start of the uprising against Mr. Assad in March 2011.

It gives the locations of 27 detention centers in cities across Syria that use torture and the names of some of the facilities' commanders.

The group said each of the centers and techniques was mentioned by multiple people interviewed, and that there are probably other facilities that the group has not been able to document.

Many former detainees reported being held in overcrowded facilities where torture by guards and interrogators was commonplace. Interviewees reported more than 20 different torture methods, including beatings with sticks and cords, squeezing fingers with pliers, attacks with electricity and acid, and sexual assault and humiliation.

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