Concern about the fate of thousands of missing people in Syria has intensified, after the campaign group Avaaz said it had contacted the families of almost 3,000 people who, it says, have been “disappeared” by the state since the start of protests in March.
Launching a campaign to highlight the issue, Avaaz said it had established the names of 2,918 missing people the security services have denied detaining.“It’s shocking – one person per hour is being disappeared. This is the face of this regime,” said Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz.
The rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have not released estimates for the number of people who have disappeared, but Nadim Houry, a Syrian researcher for Human Rights Watch, said incommunicado detention was “widespread” in the country.
On Wednesday, activists reported a military offensive and wave of arrests in the areas surrounding Damascus.
Eleven people were killed, according to activists, when tanks and troops stormed the town of Kanaker, 30km from the capital.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network that documents protests, also reported a “huge detaining campaign” in the Damascus suburb of Barzeh on Wednesday, in which the group says more than 150 people were arrested.
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is struggling to quell the four-month-old protest movement before the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which begins next week, when campaigners intend to step up protests.
The weekly demonstrations after Friday prayers already appear to be swelling, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets last week in the central city of Hama and the eastern oil-producing province of Deir Ezzor – although protests have yet to shake the big commercial cities of Damascus and Aleppo.
Mr Assad has sought to portray himself as a reformer, and this week the cabinet approved legislation that would theoretically pave the way for the formation of multiple political parties in a country dominated by the Ba’ath party since 1963.
Activists say the reform measures have no credibility amid widespread detentions and killings. About 1,600 people are estimated to have been killed since the start of protests.
“I think there’s a trust issue,” said Wissam Tarif, director of the human rights group Insan. “No matter what concessions, the street does not trust this regime any more.”