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Syrian civilians give details of atrocities

| Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

Syrian villagers described watching rebels advance on their homes, as mortars thudded around them. By the end of the August attack, 190 civilians had been killed, including children, the elderly and the handicapped, a human rights group said on Friday in its most detailed account of alleged war crimes committed by those fighting the Damascus regime.

Human Rights Watch said the offensive against 14 pro-regime villages in the province of Latakia was led by five Islamic extremist groups, including two linked to al-Qaida. Other rebel groups, including those belonging to the Free Syrian Army, a Western-backed alliance, participated in the campaign, but there is no evidence linking them to war crimes, the 105-page report said.

The allegations are bound to heighten Western unease about who would replace Syrian President Bashar Assad if he were ousted.

“It creates justifiable alarm that the opposition has been infiltrated and undermined by radicals,” said David L. Phillips, a former State Department adviser on the Middle East.

The Free Syrian Army distanced itself from the five groups identified by HRW as the main perpetrators. “Anyone who commits such crimes will not belong to the revolution anymore,” said spokesman Louay Mikdad.

Human rights groups have said both sides in the civil war, have violated the rules of war, but U.N. investigators have said the scale and intensity of rebel abuses hasn't reached that of the regime.

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