Rebel groups in Syria killed at least 190 civilians, many unarmed and trying to flee, during attacks on pro-government villages, Human Rights Watch said.
Residents of 10 Alawite hamlets in the Latakia region woke on Aug. 4 to the sound of gun shots and mortar fire, the precursor to sustained raids by opposition forces, the New York-based advocacy group said in a report released today. At least 67 of the victims were executed or unlawfully killed during the operation, the group said.
More than two dozen groups took part in the two-week offensive on the Alawite villages in the Latakia countryside, including The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jaish al-Muhajreen wal-Ansar, according to the report. The groups continue to hold more than 200 hostages in the area, HRW said, citing opposition sources it didn’t name.
Syria’s conflict began with peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011, part of a wave of popular opposition to authoritarian regimes across the Arab world. It evolved into a sectarian war after President Bashar al-Assad’s troops fired on demonstrators. The conflict has since killed more than 115,200 people, half of them civilians, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Oct. 1.
The high civilian toll, along with the presence of 43 women, children, and elderly among the dead, and the nature of the wounds, indicates opposition forces either intentionally or indiscriminately killed most of the victims, it said. The actions amount to crimes against humanity, the report found.
The main opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, said it was deeply concerned by the report, and disavows the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jaish al-Muhajreen wal-Ansar, the two main perpetrators identified in the report.
The operation on the villages “does not represent an effort by the true Syrian opposition, but rather a shameful one-time attack by outlier extremist groups that thrive under the hand of the Assad regime,” the coalition said in a statement.
“These abuses were not the actions of rogue fighters,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This operation was a coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population in these Alawite villages.”
The government began an offensive to retake the area on Aug. 5, and regained full control on Aug. 18. The group interviewed more than 35 people, including survivors, emergency-response staff and fighters and activists from both the government and opposition sides. It also accessed videos and photographs and carried out on-site investigations, the report said.
Government and pro-government forces have also been accused by Human Rights Watch of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture and executions, in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, Tartous, Homs and Idlib governates.
HRW called on the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on groups on all sides against whom there is credible evidence of widespread or systematic abuses or crimes against humanity. It said the Security Council should also refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
To contact the reporter on this story: Caroline Alexander in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com