BEIRUT -- A Syrian rebel group placed several hostages in large, metal cages on Monday and paraded them through a suburb of Douma, a city six miles northeast of Damascus. Hostages, carried on the backs of lorries, are reported to be officers in the Syrian army. Family members of those officers also were paraded through Douma in cages. The hostages are from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam whose followers are mostly loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Taking hostages, rebels say, is retaliation for the Syrian regime’s repeated airstrikes on Douma residential areas and the chemical weapons attack in 2013 that killed hundreds of civilians around Ghouta, the agricultural area of the Damascus countryside.
"After what happened in the city of Douma and the whole of eastern Ghouta, most people decided to place those prisoners from the Alawite sect and high-ranking regime officers in cages so they can taste our misery," media activist Bara Abdul Rahman said in the video of the hostages, published online by the Shaam News Network, a pro-opposition media outlet.
Islamist rebel group Jaish al-Islam, which means Army of Islam, is accused of using the hostages to "prevent regime bombardment," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, told Agence France-Presse.
"Jaish al-Islam is using these captives and kidnapped people -- including whole families - as human shields,” he said.
Jaish al-Islam has not claimed responsibility for the stunt, but they are the dominant rebel group in the area that's seen a major increase in Syrian regime airstrikes over the last week.
On Friday, two days before the video was released, Syrian regime warplanes bombarded Douma. The bombing targeted a market and killed at least 70 people and injured 550 others, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) November 3, 2015
Syrian regime bombardments could become “even more horrific if it spreads to besieged areas around Damascus, where almost a million people are trapped with no way to escape, few medical facilities, and no options for medical evacuations of seriously wounded,” MSF said in a statement.
Abdul Rahman, the anti-government media activist, also narrated a similar video in February, where children in Douma were placed in cages wearing orange jumpsuits. The propaganda video was meant to draw attention to the plight of residents in Douma by emulating a video released by the Islamic State group, showing Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kassesbeh, wearing an orange jumpsuit, being burned alive in a cage.
This latest video appears to have the same message.
“Human rights and humanitarian organizations will start calling on the opposition to release those officers,” Abdul Rahman said in the video. “We didn’t hear those organizations calling to save the people of Eastern Ghouta.”