- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A group of anti-Assad rebels in Syria this week paraded kidnapped pro-Assad men and women in cages outside Damascus, using them as human shields against Russian airstrikes.

Local activists said as many as 500 men and women from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Alawite kin have been put in cages by members of the Army of Islam rebel group, The Daily Mail reported.

The cages have been mounted on the back of flatbed trucks and placed on rooftops to deter Russian jets from launching more airstrikes in the city of Douma, which has been pulverized by daily attacks.

Video of the rebel group posted on social media shows the fighters driving at least 100 cages around residential areas on pickup trucks to pressure the government to call off Russian airstrikes, according to the anti-government Shaam news agency.

The terrified captives are shown begging for their release and for the Russian airstrikes to cease.

One woman, Mervat Ali, from Qardaha, can be heard saying: “We wish that the Russian warplanes never shell civilians again,” The Daily Mail reported.

Baraa Abdulrahman, a media activist close to the Army of Islam, the dominant rebel group in the region, told The New York Times that the prisoners were captured army officers from President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect and their families.

Human Rights Watch condemned the latest action by rebels on the ground, alleging that similar caging tactics were used in the Shia village of Fue, in the north of the country, last month.

Middle East director Nadim Houry told British news agency The Times, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”

“You can’t protect civilians by endangering other civilians,” he added, calling for action from international actors.

The Army of Islam received financial backing from Saudi Arabia.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which runs clinics in the area, reported that at least 70 people died and 550 others were injured in an air strike last week.

Russia began its airstrike campaign in Syria in late September. The Kremlin initially claimed it was focused on hitting Islamic State targets but later admitted it was also targeting anti-Assad rebels.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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