Syrian amnesty offer


The Syrian government announced an amnesty for men who deserted the army or avoided military service, giving them several months to report for duty without facing punishment, it said.

The fear of conscription and potential punishment for ducking it or for desertion is frequently cited by aid groups as a reason refugees give for not wanting to return home.

In a decree issued on his social media feeds, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the amnesty covered all punishments for desertion in or outside Syria.

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

Under Syrian military law, deserters can face years in prison if they leave posts and do not report for duty in a set time.

Syria’s conflict began in 2011 after mass protests against Assad’s rule, eventually leading to half a million deaths and drawing in world and regional powers.

Many soldiers deserted, some to join rebels and others to escape fighting. More than half the pre-war population fled their homes. About five million went abroad and millions were displaced internally.

While the amnesty covers desertion, it does not cover fighting against government or joining rebels regarded by the Syrian government as terrorists.

In the past three years, Russian and Iranian military support helped Assad regain control of numerous enclaves held by anti-Assad rebels or jihadist militants, ending fighting in many areas.

After a Russian-Turkish deal to avert an assault on the last major opposition stronghold in the north-west it is unclear if there will be new military offensives.

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

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 and other issues including a lack of infrastructure.