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In a new report, Human Rights Watch says that opposition groups in Syria “systematically” targeted civilians in an August 4 attack on villages on the Syrian coast, killing at least 190 civilians, including 48 women and 11 children.
The report says that two of the rebel groups are still holding over 200 civilians as hostages, most of them women and children, and Human Rights Watch is asking the U.N. and the world community to prosecute the groups and to make sure that they receive no more arms or aid.
While there have been other reports of human rights abuses by Syrian rebels, those have been relatively small scale. Human Rights Watch says this was a “coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population in these Alawite villages” which rises to the level of “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Alawites are a sect with Shia Islam. They make up a minority of Syria’s population, but the country’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad and key parts of the Syrian government and military are Alawite.
In all, over 20 rebel groups took part in the attack, but the report charges the five leading groups of the abuses. Those five groups include extremist and foreign-led Islamist militias, none of which are part of the Western-backed umbrella opposition organization, the Syrian Military Council.
The report recommends that the human rights abuses be referred to the International Criminal Court and taken up by the U.N.
“It is really incumbent on the int’l comm to act in a unified way , and the UN sec council to ensure that a strong message is sent to perpetrators of violations like this on both sides of the conflict,” Lama Fakih, a co-author of the report, told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “They cannot perpetrate these types of abuses with impunity, but rather that they will be held to account if they execute civilians.”
Fakih says that although reports of the violence in Syria can become routine, the situation there is dire.
“When you are there, and when you are seeing someone explain to you how his father, or his wife or his son was executed, was helpless to defend himself, it doesn’t allow you to feel that complacency,” Fakih said.