A report by Human Rights Watch outlining crimes committed by rebel forces against civilians in Latakia province has been met with denials and anger by some Syrian rebels, with posts on social media calling it a “hypocrisy” and “misleading propaganda.”
The international humanitarian group has vigilantly documented human rights abuses in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, including alleged crimes committed by opposition groups. Yet the assault on Latakia, described in a report released Friday, is the first large-scale atrocity by rebel forces reported by HRW to date.
The report said 190 Alawite residents, including women and children, were killed in the villages of Blouta and al-Hamboushieh when around 20 rebel groups attacked on Aug. 4. Two hundred civilians were detained and have not yet been released.
“All what was said in the report is misleading,” said Muhamed Raslan, a Free Syrian Army fighter from Idlib province, adding that these areas, now under government control, are not accessible to journalists, so accurate information is impossible to obtain.
“Reporters and Human Rights Watch should not depend on just photos or videos because they are from an unknown source,” Raslan said. “ If we suppose it’s true, what about more than 100,000 people killed by the regime only because they said ‘we want to be free?’ And what about more than 100,000 people being held in government prisons?”
A statement released by the Syrian National Council Friday said the coalition of opposition groups was deeply concerned by the report.
“The incident reported by HRW in today’s 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 [President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime,” the statement read.
Human Rights Watch conducted an on-site investigation and 35 interviews with survivors, emergency response staff, and fighters and activists on both government and opposition sides.
“It is our job to investigate abuses committed by all sides in the conflict, and to seek to protect Syrian civilians from atrocities by all sides,” said Peter Bouckaert, the group’s emergencies director.
“Those on the opposition side who think they are helping their cause by trying to deny the seriousness of such crimes or want us to focus only on Assad’s crimes are deluding themselves: these extremist elements pose as much a threat to Syria’s people as the Assad government.”
Bouckaert said the fate of around 200 captives that were captured in the offensive over two months ago remains unknown.
More from GlobalPost: Syrian rebels killed civilians and took hostages in Latakia offensive, says HRW
The conflict that began as an uprising against a harsh regime has since become a largely sectarian battle. Islamic extremist groups have been steadily increasing their presence over the past year and now control large areas of rebel-held Syria.
Somar Al-Abdulla, an Alawite Syrian and active supporter of the Syrian uprising, knows firsthand the changing nature of the revolution. Although he has played a key role in lobbying support for the revolution and organizing protests in his hometown of Hama and later Homs and Aleppo, he was forced to flee Syria amid threats from fellow revolutionaries.
“I feel that the hate and bitterness between the sects has become more and more, and it needs a lot of effort and many years to bring back peace among Syrians,” Al-Abdulla said in an interview via internet from Turkey, where he is now research director for the Centre for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria (CCSDS).
“These crimes have shown the scandalous ethics of all the parties involved in the conflict that claim that they protect civilians,” he said. “What happened in Latakia does not aid the fall of the regime. On the contrary the regimes’ position now is much stronger in the international public’s opinion, and the regime’s claims that it is fighting terrorists will be supported by this report.”
Al-Abdulla said the killing of civilians goes against not only international law but the religious ethics these groups claim to be fighting for, not to mention their “slogans about lifting the injustice from the Syrian people.”
“While civilians have no guilt in what is happening, they are the ones suffering the most,” Al-Abdulla said. “Most of those who were killed in Latakia were farmers and poor people who have no involvement in the war whatsoever, just like the civilians of Aleppo and Homs and Idlib and Damascus and Deir al-Zor and other cities of Syria that have been killed by the regime.”
In response to atrocities committed on both sides, the CCSDS issued a statement calling on all sides to protect civilians and cease violations of human rights, warning that abuses would have “serious negative consequences” on Syria and the entire region.
“Signs of such consequences appear in the growth of hatred and the increasing tendency toward revenge among all parties,” reads the declaration, which has been signed by 45 organizations to date. “The protection of civilians and the prevention of additional casualties has become the duty of everyone, as they will bear the historical responsibility for the consequences.”