Syria: War crime fears fuelled by video of summary killings
REBEL fighters have again been implicated in alleged war crimes after a video appeared on YouTube showing captured Syrian soldiers being sprayed with bullets as they lay on the ground.
The video raises fears that some rebel groups are out of control, ahead of a major conference this weekend in Qatar where there will be an attempt to unify the opposition under a new leadership.
America, other western countries, and regional allies have been hesitant to give stronger support to the 19-month rebellion against president Bashar al-Assad in part because of worries over its multiple divisions and lack of organisation.
The killings took place on Thursday during a rebel assault on the northern town of Saraqeb, the scene of heavy fighting in past weeks between rebels and the forces of president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, according to an anti-regime activist organisation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Rebels are now in full control of Saraqeb after regime troops pulled back on Thursday, the Observatory said. That gives the rebels a strategic point on the main road linking Syria’s largest city Aleppo – which rebels have been trying to capture for months – with the regime stronghold of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
Reports of human rights abuses by rebel elements have been on the rise, seriously damaging their claim to the moral high ground in the civil war and fuelling concerns that they are capable of a brutality matching that of the regime they are seeking to topple.
The issue is complicated by the fragmented nature of the rebellion. Even units under the umbrella Free Syrian Army group operate independently, and as conflict drags on, criminals, foreign Islamists and other renegades have joined in.
In early August, a video showed several bloodied prisoners being led into a crowd in Aleppo and placed against a wall before gunmen shot them dead. According to activists, the men killed were members of the Barri clan, which has close ties to the Syrian government. That video sparked international condemnation.
There have been other videos of summary executions and sectarian killings by rebels – including, according to one report by a Shiite watchgroup, the beheading of Iraqi Shiites living in Syria. At the same time, there have been repeated reports of massacres by regime forces and by the pro-Assad fighters known as shabiha.
Human rights groups said yesterday they were trying to confirm the authenticity of the new video.
The amateur footage shows a crowd of gunmen, apparently rebels, in what appears to be a building under construction. They surround a group of captured men on the ground, some on their bellies as if ordered to lie down, others sprawled as if wounded. Some of the men are in Syrian uniforms. “These are Assad’s dogs,” one of the gunmen is heard saying of the captives. The gunmen kick and beat some of the men, who appear terrified as one gunman shouts, “Damn you”. The exact number of soldiers in the video is not clear, but there appear to be around ten of them.
Seconds later, amid screams, gunfire erupts for around 35 seconds and the captives on the floor are seen shaking and twitching, apparently from being struck by bullets. The video is titled “prisoners and dead from the regime military at the Hmeisho checkpoint”.
Ausama Monajed, a UK-based member of the Syrian National Council opposition, called for an investigation.
He said the unit responsible for the killings must be tracked down and tried.
But he also alleged the regime had created “fake” rebel units in the past to commit atrocities and tarnish the rebels’ reputation. “We are not saying this is the case,” he said. “We need to identify the unit.”
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