Rebel groups in Syria are accused of killing as many as 190 civilians and taking 200 hostages during an offensive in August, Human Rights Watch claims.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation claims there were executions and indiscriminate shootings in the Latakia countryside, and that hostages are still being held by the Islamic state of Iraq and Sham (Isis) and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar.
The group visited five villages after a rebel offensive in August, interviewing relatives of people missing of wounded in the attack as well as opposition figures not involved in the attack.
A report released today states that 190 civilians were killed, including 57 women and 18 children along with 14 elderly men.
“The evidence collected strongly suggests they were killed on the first day of the operation, 4 August,” the report states.
“Given that many residents remain missing, and opposition fighters buried many bodies in mass graves, the total number of dead is likely higher.
“Human Rights Watch has documented that opposition forces executed or unlawfully killed at least 67 of these 190 civilians even though they were unarmed and trying to flee.”
The group goes on to claim that those unlawfully killed were civilian non-combatants who posed no threat to rebel fighters.
“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.”
The abuses were reported as having “clear sectarian motivations”. In Barouda fighters damaged an Alawite grave site and dug up the grave of the religious figure buried there.
Nearly 20 groups are believed to have taken part in the offensive, with five reportedly involved in attacks on civilians: al-Nusra Front, Isis, Jaysh al-Muhajirin wa al-Ansar, Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Izz.
None of the five implicated are part of the Free Syrian Army or backed by the supreme military council. HRW says it has evidence linking all five to incidents that amount to war crimes.
Their report notes; “Serious abuses carried out by the opposition groups on August 4 were not the actions of a group of rogue fighters.”
The area was regained on 18 August by government forces, allowing Human Rights Watch to conduct interviews with 35 people from both sides of the conflict.
An eyewitness account explains how fighters swarmed the area; “We hid, but my dad stayed in the house. He was killed in his bed. My aunt, she is an 80 year old blind woman, was also killed in her room. Her name is Nassiba.”
The report calls on the UN Security Council to ensure no arms are passing through Turkey to these groups and to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.