Human Rights Watch has collected evidence that Syrian 'freedom fighters' killed large numbers of civilians during an offensive in the Alawite Lataqia area, in August. The opposition fighters attacked and overran the government army positions guarding the area on 4 August and in the following hours entered into and occupied more than 10 Alawite villages. The government launched an offensive to retake the area on August 5 ultimately regaining full control on August 18.
Sheikh Badr Eddin Al-Ghazzal, an Alawite cleric from the village of Barouda, shortly before his execution by members of Jabhat al-Nusra. Sheikh Al-Ghazzal was linked to a religious monument in his village that was destroyed. The sheikh was abducted and tortured before being killed. Jebhat al-Nusra itself distributed pictures and video's of the event.
Human Rights Watch went to the area and reports:
Human Rights Watch has collected the names of 190 civilians
who were killed by opposition forces in their offensive on the villages,
including 57 women and at least 18 children and 14 elderly men (see Annex 1 for
list of victims). The evidence collected strongly suggests they were killed on
the first day of the operation, August 4. We identified these individuals as
civilians through interviews, video and photographic evidence, or a review of
hospital records. 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 evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch
indicates that all those unlawfully killed were civilian non-combatants. There
is no evidence that they could have posed, or could have been perceived to pose,
any threat to the fighters.
For the rest of these killed, further investigation is
required to assess the precise circumstances of the residents’ deaths and
whether or not the deaths were the result of unlawful killings. However the high
civilian death toll, the nature of the recorded wounds, for example multiple
gunshot or stabbing wounds, and the presence of 43 women, children, and elderly
among the dead all indicate that most of these individuals were either
intentionally or indiscriminately killed by opposition forces.
According to HRW at least the following groups took part in the offensive: Ahrar al-Sham, Islamic State of Iraq and Sham,
Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar,
Eight survivors and
witnesses described to HRW 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, and at other times killing
adult male family members, and holding the female relatives and children
hostage. At the time of writing of the HRW-report, according to opposition sources, over 200
civilians, the vast majority of whom are women and children, continue to be
held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and Jaish
al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, groups that led the opposition offensive.