Human Rights Watch reported that foreign-backed militants in Syria had committed crimes against humanity as they killed dozens of civilians and seized many others hostages during a military offensive last August.
The report by the New York-based group said the crimes took place in villages inhabited by Alawite sect near the city of Latakia.
HRW said it had conducted an on-site investigation and interviewed more than 35 people, including survivors and fighters from both sides of the offensive.
In its 105-page report, the group said that in the early hours of 4 August opposition fighters overran government positions in the Latakia countryside and occupied more than 10 Alawite villages.
“It appears the civilians were killed on the first day of the operation”, HRW reported.
“Witnesses described how opposition forces executed residents and opened fire on civilians, sometimes killing or attempting to kill entire families who were either in their homes unarmed or fleeing from the attack”, the report said.
The group said that about 20 opposition groups took part in the offensive and that five were involved in the attacks on civilians – the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Jaysh al-Muhajirin wa al-Ansar, Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Izz.
The report said ISIS and Jaysh al-Muhajirin were still holding the hostages, most of them women and children.
The government launched a counter-attack the next day and regained control of the area on 18 August, according to the report.
Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at HRW, said the abuses were “not the actions of rogue fighters”.
“This operation was a co-ordinate, planned attack on the civilian population in these Alawite villages”, he said.
HRW said evidence including witness statements and a review of hospital records showed opposition forces executed or unlawfully killed at least 67 of the 190 dead civilians who were identified.
It added that the high civilian death toll and the nature of the recorded wounds “indicate that opposition forces either intentionally or indiscriminately killed most of the remaining victims”.
“The evidence strongly suggests that the killings, hostage taking, and other abuses committed by opposition forces on and after August 4 rise to the level of crimes against humanity”, the report said.
HRW said that extremist groups – which include foreign fighters – are financed by individuals in Kuwait and the Gulf. It calls on the UN to impose an arms embargo on all groups credibly accused of war crimes.
Source: Al Manar