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Syria's Assad issues amnesty reducing punishment for crimes

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued an amnesty on Sunday that reduces sentences for crime and pardons draft dodgers if they report for duty within three to six months.

FILE PHOTO: A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen on the main road to the airport in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo

The decree applies to crimes committed before Sept. 14, the presidency said. It reduces the death penalty to a life sentence of hard labor, and life sentences to 20 years, among other punishments.

Fugitives must turn themselves in within three months to benefit from the amnesty.

The amnesty does not cover Syrians who took up arms to fight the state, colluded with foreign nations against Syria, or joined insurgents, whom Damascus regards as terrorists.

Other exceptions include drug crimes and arms smuggling.

Draft dodgers inside Syria will have three months to take advantage of the amnesty while those abroad will have six months.

During Syria’s war, the government has issued similar amnesties before to pardon those evading mandatory military service, who can face years in prison.

With Russian and Iranian help, Assad has reclaimed control of most of the country from an array of rebel factions, some that were backed by foreign governments, and jihadist militants.

Syria’s war, which spiraled out of an uprising in 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands of people, uprooted half the pre-war population, and created one of the world’s worst refugee crises.

Aid agencies often cite the fear of conscription, and punishment for ducking it, as one of the main reasons refugees give for not wanting to return home.

Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Editing by Dale Hudson