By Safvan Allahverdi
WASHINGTON (AA) - A former Syrian military photographer, using the pseudonym Caesar, demanded Wednesday that the U.S. stand with the Syrian people and halt the killings by the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Caesar said the Assad regime has used the international community's inaction as a green light to continue his crimes against Syrians.
"For nine years, the United States has watched as we live in bombardment and torture. We beg of you, as an administration, to do right for the Syrian people and look at the Syrian people as brothers and sisters in humanity.
"Simply I would ask the [U.S.] administration to please end the killing in Syria," he added.
Caesar, now a whistleblower, was working as a forensic photographer for the Syrian army before exposing tens of thousands of high-definition photos of people tortured to death at a military hospital near the capital Damascus.
He said the Syrian regime's detentions and killings have increased since he left the country about five years ago.
The international community must indict the Syrian regime for its "systematic machinery use" against the Syrian people and to bring the perpetrators of the longstanding violence before international courts, he said.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since March 2011, when the regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.
Raed Al Saleh, director of Syrian civil defense group the White Helmets, also testified before the committee, which included Sen. Jim Risch, the committee's Republican chairman, and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a ranking member of the committee.
Saleh said the consequences of the world's inaction cannot be confined to Syria's borders.
"Millions more refugees will flee Syria to Europe's safer shores. No border wall can contain them. An entire generation of children will be left uneducated. Extremist groups will foment the chaos necessitating future global coalitions and trillions of dollars to defeat new threats," said Saleh.
The hearing also addressed the humanitarian crisis in Idlib province in northwestern Syria and the operation by Turkey to prevent the offensive by Assad forces backed by Russia and Iran.
Saleh said Ankara's campaign last month shattered the myth that the use of force to stop possibilities might cause further escalation.
"In fact, the opposite happened after Turkey's brief military intervention. Last week, there was a complete stop in aerial attacks. But Turkey cannot do this alone. It needs your support and leadership," he added.
In his opening speech, Senator Risch took aim at the Russian government and said Moscow does not have an interest in ending the war in Syria.
"A deeply fractured Syria will never heal. The Syrian people deserve better, much better," he said.
Idlib falls within a de-escalation zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018. The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire, launching frequent attacks inside the zone.
The de-escalation zone is currently home to some 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces from throughout the war-weary country.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last week agreed on a new ceasefire for Idlib starting on March 5.
*Servet Gunerigok contributed to this story