x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Syrian rebels accused of committing atrocity in Latakia

The August 4 attacks on unarmed civilians in more than a dozen villages in the coastal province of Latakia were systematic and could even amount to a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said

BEIRUT // Extremist-led rebel fighters in Syria killed at least 190 civilians and abducted more than 200 during an offensive against pro-regime villages, committing a war crime, an international human rights group said on Friday.

The August 4 attacks on unarmed civilians in more than a dozen villages in the coastal province of Latakia were systematic and could even amount to a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said in a 105-page report based on a visit to the area a month later.

Witnesses said rebels went house to house, in some cases killing entire families and in other cases killing the men and taking women and children hostages. The villagers belong to the minority Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot that forms the backbone of President Bashar Al Assad’s regime — and which Sunni extremists 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 Mr 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, the New York-based group said.

The findings are bound to feed mounting Western unease about the tactics of some of those trying to topple Mr Al Assad and about the growing role foreign fighters linked to Al Qaeda.

UN war crimes investigators have accused both sides in Syria’s civil war, now in its third year, of wrongdoing, though they said earlier this year that the scale and intensity of rebel abuses hasn’t reached that of the regime.

The new allegations of rebel abuses come at a time when the regime is regaining some international legitimacy because of its apparent cooperation with an internationally mandated programme to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014.

Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch said the rebel abuses in Latakia “certainly amount to war crimes”, and may even rise to the level of crimes against humanity.

Human Rights Watch said more than 20 rebel groups participated in the Latakia offensive including Jabhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria

The rights group said at least 67 of the 190 civilians slain by the rebels were killed at close range or while trying to flee.

As reports of violence continue to emerge from Syria, the president of the Arab Parliament, Ahmed Al Jarwan, on Friday urged all parties in Syria to stage an immediate ceasefire during Eid Al Adha.

Mr Al Jarwan said “the continuous armed conflict in Syria further deepens the tragedy and the wounds of the Syrian people”, adding that the Syrian regime forces and the rebels have to immediately reach a permanent ceasefire.

The head of the pan-Arab parliamentary body also demanded all parties involved in the conflict in Syria reach a permanent solution to the crisis through negotiations.

Also on Friday, the UN Security Council formally approved a first joint mission with the Nobel Peace Prize winning global chemical arms watchdog to destroy Syria’s weapons.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN already have a team of 60 experts and support staff in Syria destroying Syria’s production facilities.

The 15-member Security Council sent a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon backing his plan on carrying out the full eradication of Syria’s banned chemical arms.

“The Security Council authorises the establishment of the OPCW-UN joint mission as proposed,” said the letter.

“This recognition occurs nearly 100 years after the first chemical attack — and 50 days after the appalling use of chemical weapons in Syria. Far from being a relic of the past, chemical weapons remain a clear and present danger,” Mr Ban said

Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by WAM and Associated Press