Syrian rebels led by al Qaida’s regional affiliates killed and kidnapped hundreds of civilians during an offensive in coastal Syria in early August, one of the worst atrocities ever blamed on forces fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, according to a report to be released Friday by an international human rights group.
Human Rights Watch claims armed Syrian opposition forces killed at least 190 civilians and took over 200 hostages, mostly women and children, during the August attack on Latakia province.
The New York-based group\’s report says at least 67 of the victims were executed or unlawfully killed during the attacks on 10 Alawite villages loyal to Assad. In some cases, the report said, entire families were gunned down.
The investigation found that 20 armed groups participated in the operation. It said five Islamist groups were the most involved, including Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. It is unknown whether or not the Western-backed Free Syrian Army participated.
Human Rights Watch\’s acting Middle East director, Joe Stork, said the abuses were not just the actions of rogue fighters, but a "coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population."
Rights groups have also documented repeated cases of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by President Assad\’s forces during the nearly three-year-long conflict, which has killed over 100,000 people.
In one of the deadliest such cases, hundreds were killed in August during a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. The Syrian government denied carrying out the attack, and instead blamed the incident on the rebels.
The United States threatened to carry out air strikes against Syrian forces in response to that attack, which it says killed 1,400 people, but those plans were put on hold after the Syrian government agreed to a U.N. plan to give up its chemical weapons stockpile.