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Deception and Decease: Human Shields In Syria Were Never Just A Deterrent

06/11/2015 11:11 GMT | Updated 05/11/2016 09:12 GMT

"How can we stop Bashar al-Assad's air strikes on a Damascus suburb?" he inquired.

"I know" said one. "We'll booby trap the area with cages containing those loyal to the regime such as soldiers and Alawait civilians. That'll shield it!"

Are we really expected to believe such a narrow-minded thesis? Conversations of such no longer cease to amaze me in a war proven to be fueled by deceit and decease.

Video footage emerged earlier this week, capturing the moment humans in cages were paraded through the streets of Douma and Eastern Ghouta; a region heavily shelled by Assad's forces for the past three weeks. Proceeding this, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented that the corresponding movement was a tactic, or if you prefer 'deterrent', implemented by the rebel group Jaish al-Islam to prevent further air strikes on the region by the regime:

"Human Rights Watch has accused Syrian rebel groups outside Damascus of war crimes after they placed hostages including civilians in cages for use as 'human shields' to deter government strikes."

Should we generalise the whole plot as a deterrent? Quite simply, no.

For those following the events in Syria, it comes as no surprise that the district continues to be heavily shelled by the regime. Syria's civil war has hardly been moulded by transparency and rational decision making over the past years. So in actual fact, what is surprising is how such a narrow-minded explanation in the grand scheme of things can be taken so literally across various news outlets.

We are not dealing with a leader involved in a typical Western-esque, ideological 'tiff'. Long gone are the days of a few exchanged angry letters for Syria. Bashar al-Assad is a man with the blood of thousands of Syrians dripping from his hands. If we look at figures, he has killed more people in Syria this year alone than the Islamic State has done. He practically invited the Islamic State into Syria, yet now claims to fight them. Need I say anymore than the chemical attack on Ghouta?

So it seems questionable conduct for anyone, let alone those directly affected, to invest such a generous amount of faith in a man more fishy than your local chippy. His track record alone is enough to reject such a simplified explanation for the human shield ploy, illustrating that he is anything but hesitant when it comes to fulfilling a means to an end at the expense of his own people. The roots of the conflict are ultimately far too deep to have such simplistic motives.

So what are the apparent ulterior motives behind deploying human shields? Understanding more about the ideological scope of a group, allegedly funded by Saudi Arabia, can begin to highlight one of these potential aims. The rebels in context are not simply against the Assad regime. Since Russia's intervention in the Civil War, they have actively demonstrated their opposition to Putin's interference. It is said that Moscow is widely perceived as an emotionally absent foreign occupier amongst members, utilising a gap in a monopoly of power for self-interest. So perhaps the video propaganda is a twisted juxtaposition to raising the group's profile as, in their eyes, what is in the best interest of Syrian welfare. Objectifying locals by placing them within cages is likely intended to symbolise their worthlessness in the eyes of the current government. 'If Assad's government had an invested interest in the welfare of the Syrian people, he would have ended the air strikes. He did no end the air strikes. Therefore, Assad does not have an invested interest in the welfare of the Syrian people.' In light of of denying the consequence, the cage emerges as more of a bait as opposed to a deterrent. And indeed, Assad bit in his continuation to attack the region.

It would not be the first time Jaish al-Islam have been seen to take an 'ethical' grounding across social media. Rebels denied association to an event that saw a mortar hit Damascus' Russian Embassy earlier in October, on the grounds of inhibiting "ethical principles".

The purpose of this article is not to say that human shields were by no means implemented to deter further attack. For the barbaric shelling the area has been subjected to over the past few weeks does provide a persuasive account to explain one angle for launching the inhuman initiative. I doubt Jaish al-Islam are naive enough to plea for a humanitarian epiphany from Assad. But desperate enough, perhaps. Judging by a correlation of events plagued with dishonesty, as well as the comprehensive monopoly of power unfolding amidst the conflict, deceit is clearly a protagonist in the Syrian crisis. Whether actions are, for example, caught in a brutal limbo of outdoing rivalry moves or have become apart of unconventional manifesto propaganda, there are potentially a vast array of motives to explain the recent events in the City's suburb.