Syrian forces summarily executed at least 100 people, including civilians and opposition fighters, as they tried to crush the uprising against President Bashar Assad, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch that documents a dozen cases of executions in the bloodied country since late 2011.
Most of the dead were not involved in the fighting, including women and children, witnesses told the human rights group. Others were rebels who were wounded, captured or “who had otherwise stopped fighting and posed no threat,” Human Rights Watch wrote.
The stories retold in the report give a chilling picture of Syrian forces shooting and stabbing people in their own homes as they swept into towns to push out rebels. Killings happened in broad daylight in front of witnesses, Human Rights Watch said, a sign that apparently no one was worried about repercussions.
One 27-year-old man recounted an execution in the central square of Kherbet al-Jouz near the Turkish border last month. Two people were led handcuffed and blindfolded out of an army truck, the man said.
"The soldiers started beating them, saying that they were terrorists and that this should be a lesson to the rest of us," he told Human Rights Watch. Then the commander gave orders to kill them. "Four soldiers opened fire. They emptied their ammunition clips, put in new ones, and continued shooting. I think they must have fired 30 times each."
Deliberately killing people who are injured, captured or have surrendered is a war crime, the group said. It urged the United Nations and the Arab League to sanction officials implicated in the executions.
Syria has been in the throes of an uprising for more than a year. An attempted peace plan appears to be unraveling as the Syrian government insists on written promises from the rebels that they will stop attacking. A cease-fire is supposed to go into effect this week, but with violence continuing to rage Monday, a smooth and peaceful halt to hostilities seems unlikely.
The newly released report is the latest document to condemn the Assad regime for human rights abuses as it tries to destroy a dissident movement that began peacefully and evolved into an armed uprising, with the opposition also accused of committing abuses.
Syria argues that it must fight off armed terrorists to defend itself. State media quoted a local group, the Syrian Human Rights Network, saying that other countries were acting hypocritically by offering "explicit support for armed terrorist groups," its usual term for the armed opposition.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles