Syrians detained during a year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule have been subjected to widespread torture that amounts to crimes against humanity, human rights group Amnesty International has said.
The rights group said on Wednesday that those caught up in the government's massive wave of arrests had been "thrust into a nightmarish world of systemic torture".
"The testimony presented in this report, taken in the context of other human rights violations committed against civilians in Syria, is yet further evidence that torture and other ill-treatment in Syria form part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, carried out in an organised manner and as part of state policy and therefore
amount to crimes against humanity," Amnesty said in a statement.
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The report, released on the eve of the anti-government revolt's first anniversary, is based on interviews last month with
Syrians who had fled to Jordan.
It documents witness and victim accounts of 31 methods of torture or other ill-treatment by Syrian security forces and their "shabiha" allies - pro-government armed groups.
The situation in Syria should be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Amnesty said. However, only the United Nations Security Council can do that and it remains divided over the violence in Syria.
The UN says more than 8,000 people have been killed in Syria since the violence began. This is not the first time Amnesty has added its voice to growing international concern over human rights abuses committed there.
The Syrian government says it is fighting foreign-backed "terrorists" it blames for killing hundreds of soldiers and
police, and has sometimes blamed them for some of the atrocities of which it has been accused.
Methods of torture
The former detainees interviewed by Amnesty in Jordan said they had suffered or witnessed methods of torture including beatings on all parts of the body, cigarettes stubbed out on the body, electric shocks, or being forced to watch the rape of another detainee.
Other methods included forcing a detainee into a tyre, which was then hoisted up and the person beaten; beating on the soles of the feet; and the so-called "flying carpet" where a victim is strapped face-up onto a foldable wooden board, the ends of which are moved towards each other, hurting the detainee's back at the same time as the victim is beaten, the report said.
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An 18-year-old student identified only as Karim told Amnesty that his interrogators used pincers to remove flesh from his legs when he was being held at an air force intelligence branch in Deraa in December 2011.
"In almost all cases the detainees are held in incommunicado detention, often for lengthy periods, with no access to visits from their families or lawyers in conditions which all too often amount to enforced disappearance," Amnesty said.
The torture appeared intended to punish, to intimidate, to coerce "confessions" and to "terrify its victims into silence", it added.
While the vast majority of alleged violations had been committed by security forces, it said there had been some
reports of abuses committed by members of armed opposition groups.
Independent UN investigators led by Paulo Pinheiro said last month that Syrian forces had committed crimes against humanity including murder and torture on orders from the "highest level" of Assad's government.
Days of clashes
Government forces re-established full control in the northern city of Idlib following days of deadly clashes with opposition fighters, sources in the country said on Wednesday.
More than one hundred people have been reported killed and hundreds more missing since fighting there intensified on March 9.
Violence was also reported in the southern city of Deraa on the border with Jordan, in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor and in Homs, opposition activists said.
This came as Assad signed a decree stating that parliamentary elections would be held on May 7, and sent a response to Kofi Annan on the UN-Arab League special envoy's proposals to end the conflict sweeping across the country.
A spokesman for Annan, who met Assad in Damascus over the weekend, said that the envoy had received a response from the Syrian president over what Annan had called "concrete proposals" to halt the violence.
"The Joint Special Envoy (JSE) for Syria, Kofi Annan, has now received a response from the Syrian authorities. The JSE has questions and is seeking answers," spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a brief statement issued by Annan's office in Geneva.
"But given the grave and tragic situation on the ground, everyone must realise that time is of the essence. As he said in the region, this crisis cannot be allowed to drag on," he added. Annan is expected to make a statement later on Wednesday in Geneva.
Meanwhile, two Syrian opposition figures quit the main political group the Syrian National Council outside the country, saying more resignations would follow in the coming days.
"I have resigned from the SNC because there is a lot of chaos in the group and not a lot of clarity over what they can accomplish right now. We have not gotten very far in working to arm the rebels," said Haitham al-Maleh, one of the two who resigned.