Friday, October 11, 2013

HRW: evidence of indiscriminate killing of civilians by Syrian opposition

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 Ghazal, a senior Alawite cleric moments before his execution by the Sunni extremist al-Qaeda group Jabhat al-Nusra. He was abducted along with 150 Syrian citizens in the village of Baroude near Latakia on 05/08/2013.
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, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar,  Suquor al-Izz.
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.

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