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Syrian rebels guilty of torture, says watchdog

SYRIAN rebels have kidnapped, tortured and executed suspected supporters of the Assad regime and members of its militias, according to the fullest study yet of abuses by the opposition.

The report by Human Rights Watch provides some balance to the worldwide denunciation of the crimes against humanity of which the regime has been accused since the start of the uprising, although there is no suggestion that opposition abuses are as regular or on anywhere near the same scale.

They also suggest that the longer the conflict continues, the worse abuses will become. The report says the protest movement was largely peaceful until September, while many of the abuses described occurred in the last two months as fighting has intensified.

Startling

Among the startling admissions recorded by researchers is a statement by a "media co-ordinator" for the Farouq Brigade, a militia with Islamist tendencies operating separately from the rebels' Free Syrian Army in and around the city of Homs.

The co-ordinator said it had executed at least one captured intelligence officer. "The death of the member of the Air Force Intelligence was an act of revenge because the branch is responsible for horrific killings in Homs," he told the researcher.

The admission adds weight to claims made by one opposition activist in the countryside near Homs last month that four men in a mass grave, who appeared to have been shot with their hands tied behind their backs, had been killed by the Farouq Brigade. The four were snipers with the Shabiha, or Assad regime informal militia, who had been captured and subsequently killed, the activist said.

HRW took care in the report to distinguish between atrocities by disparate volunteer militias -- such as the Farouq Brigade -- and the Free Syrian Army, a force largely consisting of army deserters who are supposed to be under the central command of a former regime colonel, Riad al-Assad. Most claim to be part of the FSA but are only tenuously under its control.

The report takes the form of a letter addressed to the Syrian National Council, seen as the main exiled opposition political leadership. "Leaders of Syrian opposition groups should condemn and forbid their members from carrying out abuses," the group said.

There was no initial response from the SNC.

The overwhelming and indiscriminate force used by the regime has won the opposition worldwide sympathy. But as it prepares for a longer guerrilla war, lasting a year or more, the opposition risks playing into the hands of the regime which has sought to portray its activists from the beginning as "terrorists". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent