An international human rights group has said Syrian rebels allied with Sunni Muslim fighters, killing at least 190 civilians and abducting more than 200 during an offensive against pro-government villages.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the August 4 killings as a “war crime”, and said the attacks against unarmed civilians in more than a dozen villages in the coastal province of Latakia were systematic.
In a 105-page report based on a visit to the area a month later, HRW said the attacks could even amount to a crime against humanity.
Witnesses said rebels went house to house, in some cases executing entire families and in other cases killing men and taking women and children hostages.
The villagers belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam which forms the backbone of President Bashar Assad’s regime – and which conservative Sunni Muslims consider heretics.
One survivor, Hassan Shebli, said he fled as rebels approached his village of Barouda at dawn, but was forced to leave behind his wife, who was unable to walk without crutches, and his 23-year-old son, who is completely paralysed.
When Shebli returned days later, after government forces retook the village, he found his wife and son buried near the house and bullet holes and blood splatters in the bedroom, HRW said.
The findings are bound to feed mounting Western unease about the tactics of some of those trying to topple Assad and about the growing role of religious fighters, including foreign groups linked to al-Qaeda.