Human Rights Watch is accusing opposition forces in Syria fighting to defeat the Assad regime of committing crimes against humanity. The New York headquartered charity says it has documented at least 190 cases of civilians being killed by Islamist rebels on 4 August. Sixty-seven of them, it said, were executed during an offensive on ten villages in Latakia province, cradle of Syria’s Alawite minority, to which the clan of President Bashar al-Assad belongs.
Human Rights Watch cites testimony from some three dozen witnesses, notably survivors of the onslaught. Hassan Shebli describes fleeing his hamlet of Barouda at around four in the morning as the rebels were approaching. He left his handicapped wife and his son behind him. The rebels killed them and buried them by their house.
He said: “Here are the blood splatters. And here are the bullet marks.”
On the wall is written the signature of Al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists.
The NGO says 20 rebel groups participated jointly in the operation to take control of the ten villages. Regime troops retook control on 18 August. Five Sunni Islamist groups are identified as the main instigators and executioners in the 4 August attack.
Syria researcher Lama Fakih said: “The pattern of abuse, the preplanning and the coordination of the attack, show that these violations were happening in a systematic way. And for that reason, these abuses do amount to crimes against humanity. Opposition fighters that came in routinely killed all the adult males that they saw. They also killed anyone they saw that was fleeing, including women and children.”
Human Rights Watch says that 200 Alawite villagers are still being held hostage by the rebels. It has called on the United Nations Security Council to engage the International Criminal Court to make clear to all the parties involved in the Syria conflict that they will be held to account for crimes.