Assad forces to blame for massacre of 248 people - human rights group
An international human rights group has accused Syrian government forces and pro-regime militias of carrying out summary executions earlier this year that left at least 248 people dead in two predominantly Sunni Muslim towns along the Mediterranean coast.
The allegations by Human Rights Watch came as intense negotiations by top American and Russian diplomats were under way in Geneva over securing President Bashar Assad's chemical arsenal implicated in the alleged chemical attack near Damascus last month that killed hundreds.
The New York-based group said in its new report, released today, that mass killings took place in the towns of Bayda and Banias on May 2 and 3.
It said the report was based on accounts of people and witnesses who saw or heard government and pro-government forces detain and then kill their relatives. The group's activists interviewed 15 Bayda residents and five from Banias, as well as survivors and local activists to compile a list of names of 167 people killed in Bayda and 81 in Banias.
The two towns are predominantly populated by Sunni Muslims, who dominate the armed revolt against Mr Assad's regime. They are in Syria's coastal area, the heartland of the ruling Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam and a group that the president also belongs to.
"While the world's attention is on ensuring that Syria's government can no longer use chemical weapons against its population, we shouldn't forget that Syrian government forces have used conventional means to slaughter civilians," said Joe Stork, the acting Middle East director at HRW. "Survivors told us devastating stories of how their unarmed relatives were mowed down in front of them by government and pro-government forces."
In the 68-page report released Friday, HRW says it has witness accounts and video evidence to support claims that the "overwhelming majority" of the victims in the two towns were killed after military clashes ended and opposition fighters had retreated from the area. The actual number of casualties is likely to be higher as it's difficult to access the area, Banias in particular, to account for the dead, the group said.