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U.N.: Reported execution by Syrian rebels could be war crime

November 2, 2012 |  7:03 am

BEIRUT -- The apparent summary execution of at least eight Syrian government soldiers by Syrian rebels documented on amateur video “looks very like a war crime,” a United Nations human rights official said Friday.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the video may capture an instance of extra-judicial execution. If verified, he said, the video could be used as evidence in a war-crimes prosecution.

“Unfortunately, this could be the latest in a string of documented summary executions by opposition factions as well as by government forces and groups affiliated with them,” Colville told reporters in Geneva. “The allegations are that these were soldiers who were no longer combatants and therefore, at this point, it looks very like a war crime.”

The video, uploaded on the Internet on Thursday, appears to show rebels training their rifles and firing on at least eight  government soldiers captured at a checkpoint in Syria’s northern Idlib province. Before the shooting barrage, some captives begged for mercy as the rebels kicked them and denounced them as “dogs” of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the rebels seek to overthrow. The video has not been independently verified.

Human rights groups have said that anyone from either side of Syria's bloody conflict found responsible for executing prisoners or other battlefield offenses could face a judicial reckoning at some point.

“The people committing these crimes should be under no illusion that they will escape accountability,” Colville warned, “because there is a lot of accumulated evidence, perhaps including this video.”

Accounts of alleged rebel atrocities and the use of car bombs and other explosives in civilian areas, along with the arrival in Syria of Islamist militants from other nations, have for some tarnished the “freedom fighter” image that opposition representatives have sought to project to the world. The reports have complicated opposition efforts to garner more aid from the West and elsewhere.

This week Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the leadership of the Syrian opposition to be “on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution.”

Meanwhile, the official Syrian news agency reported Friday that "terrorists"--the government's customary description of armed rebels-- detonated a pair of bombs hidden inside a car parked near Damascus'  al-Zahera Park, leaving 16 people injured. No fatalities were reported.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

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