Syrian rebel fighters guilty of serious abuses, says Human Rights Watch

Story highlights

Opposition fighters committed serious abuses in Alawite villages, rights group says

Human Rights Watch says it has evidence that attacks killed at least 190 civilians

Syrian Coalition condemns alleged abuses, says they're not the "true Syrian opposition"

Syria's civil war has drawn in groups linked to al Qaeda as well as more moderate groups

CNN  — 

Opposition fighters who attacked Alawite villages near the Syrian city of Latakia, killing at least 190 civilians, committed “serious abuses” that may amount to crimes against humanity, rights group Human Rights Watch said Friday.

The abuses occurred after an opposition offensive on August 4 in which the fighters overran government army positions and occupied more than 10 Alawite villages, the rights group said.

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Witnesses and survivors described how opposition fighters “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,” the Human Rights Watch report said.

More than 200 civilians – the vast majority of them women and children – are still being held hostage by two opposition groups that led the offensive, the rights group said, citing opposition sources. It named the groups as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), which is affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq, and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar.

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Government forces launched a counteroffensive on August 5 and regained full control of the area on August 18, the report said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s family belongs to the minority Alawite sect, which is associated with Shia Islam.

His government has consistently blamed the country’s conflict on “terrorists” backed by foreign powers, while his own forces are accused of abuses, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

The Syrian Coalition, the main opposition alliance, said that it was “deeply concerned” about the Human Rights Watch report and that it “once again disavowed” the two groups holding the hostages.

“We unequivocally condemn all human rights violations committed by armed groups, including extra-judicial killings and kidnappings,” it said.

The offensive documented in the Human Rights Watch report “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,” it said.

Many ISIS fighters are believed to be foreign jihadists rather than Syrians.

‘War crimes’ evidence

The evidence collected by Human Rights Watch “strongly suggests that the serious abuses carried out by the opposition groups on August 4 were not the actions of a group of rogue fighters,” but were coordinated actions showing premeditation and organization.