GENEVA: UN rights investigators have established that Syrian government forces were almost certainly responsible for two massacres last May in which up to 450 civilians were killed, a report published yesterday said.
The report documents nine mass killings in all, attributing all but one to government forces, but said both government and rebel fighters had committed war crimes including murder, hostage-taking and shelling of civilians.
With more than 100,000 dead in the Syrian war, there was little sign that reports of atrocities would spur international action until last month, when allegations that President Bashar Al Assad’s forces had gassed hundreds of civilians sparked a threat of US strikes, and furious international diplomacy.
The killings in Baida and Ras Al Nabaa, two pockets of rebel sympathisers surrounded by villages loyal to Assad on the outskirts of the town of Banias, did not involve fighting with rebels and appeared designed to send a message of deterrence. The UN commission of inquiry has not been allowed into Syria, but its 20 investigators carried out 258 interviews with refugees, defectors and others, in the region and in Geneva, including via Skype, for their 11th report in two years.
In Baida, it said between 150 and 250 civilians had allegedly been killed, including 30 women, apparently executed, who were found in one house. It said armed rebels were not active in the area at the time. “Testimonies were consistent that members of the National Defence Forces were actively involved in the raids and in many cases leading them,” the 42-page report said.
“Accordingly, there are reasonable grounds to believe that government forces and affiliated militias including the National Defence Forces are the perpetrators of the Al Bayda (Baida) massacre.” Reuters