Thursday, April 18, 2019
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Syria's Assad offers amnesty to army deserters

The amnesty offer however, does not cover those who fought against the government or joined rebels during the civil war.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has granted a general amnesty for men who deserted the army or have avoided military service.

A decree published by state media on Tuesday said the amnesty applies to men "inside and outside the country" and covers all punishments for desertion.

Men inside Syria will have four months to take advantage of the amnesty while those outside will have six months.

The move could help boost the return of refugees, some of whom have not been able to go back home because they were blacklisted.

Under Syrian military law, deserters can face years of prison if they leave their posts and do not report for service within a set amount of time.

While Tuesday's amnesty covers desertion, it does not cover fighting against the government or joining the rebels, who are regarded by the Syrian government as "terrorists".

Syria's conflict began in 2011 after the mass uprising against Assad's rule met a brutal government crackdown. The violence escalated and the country descended into a civil war that has claimed up to half a million lives.

Many soldiers deserted, some to join the rebels and others to escape the fighting. More than half the prewar population fled their homes.

About five million went abroad and millions of others were displaced internally, creating one of the worst refugee crises of the modern times.

The decree comes at a time when government forces have managed to capture wide areas once held by rebel fighters, including in southern Syria and the eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus.

The flashpoint in Syria is now the country's northwestern province of Idlib, the last remaining stronghold of rebels.

Lebanon says 50,000 Syrian refugees, among the more than a million it says are on its soil, have gone home voluntarily in assisted returns this year.

However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says conditions have not yet been fulfilled for mass refugee returns.

Speaking in Beirut in August, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said refugees were concerned about conscription, as well as other issues such as the lack of infrastructure.

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