GAZIANTEP, Turkey – Syrian Islamist rebel groups were accused of killing at least 190 villagers in the country's pro-government heartland and kidnapping hundreds more, as the emergence of jihadist forces fuels further sectarian strife.
Civilian residents, including dozens of women and children, were gunned down or stabbed during a coordinated, planned attack on villages in the mountains of Latakia province in August, New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Friday. More than 200 residents taken hostage still remain in custody of Islamist rebels, the group added.
The offensive, led by Al-Qaida's Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), targeted villages largely home to Alawites, members of the Shiite offshoot sect to which President Bashar Assad belongs. At one stage, rebel forces claimed that they were within 12 miles of Qardaha, the town from which Assad's family hails. Gen. Salim Idriss, head of the Free Syrian Army — a rebel organization that is not affiliated with Islamist extremists — was filmed visiting the front.
"Residents told us that in the early morning hours on Aug. 4th, they woke up to gunfire and mortar fire," said Lama Fakih, a Beirut-based researcher for Human Rights Watch who visited villages during the first week of September after reinforced government troops managed to regain control from rebels.
The 105-page report was compiled from more than 35 interviews with residents, emergency response staff, and fighters and activists on both government and opposition sides.