Syrian rebels accused of war crime after video is posted appearing to show opposition forces shooting captured Assad troops

Video showing apparent war crime raises questions about oppposition groups

Beirut

A video, which appears to shows Syrian rebels summarily executing a group of unarmed men sparked international outrage today, increasing concerns about the make-up of the plethora of armed groups fighting in an increasingly dirty war.

The UN joined human rights groups in accusing the rebels of a possible war crime in the incident apparently filmed after rebels seized a checkpoint near the strategically crucial town of Saraqeb in Idlib province, which was reported to be in Free Syrian Army (FSA) control today.

The video will compound worries about elements within the rebel ranks just days before a key meeting in Doha which aims to forge a new opposition body including more representation from internal groups. 

The footage shows a chaotic scene as armed men corral at least 10 captives - thought to be Assad security forces who were manning the checkpoint - into a group on the floor, encircling them and shouting insults. "Animal!" one cries out, "Assad dogs!" shouts another as several men are kicked the back of the head while they lie face down on the floor. Chants of "God is Great!" drown out the pleading cries of the captives, before the shouting is broken by the sound of gunfire, and a rain of bullets kicks up dust from the ground above a pile of twitching corpses.

"The allegations are that these were soldiers who were no longer combatants and therefore, at this point, it looks very like a war crime. Another one," said Rupert Colville a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The people committing these crimes should be under no illusion that they will escape accountability."

Amnesty International, the first to highlight the footage, described it as "shocking" saying it "demonstrates an utter disregard for international humanitarian law." Both Amnesty and the UN said they were investigating the video and trying to determine the identity of the gunmen.

The video is titled "prisoners and dead from the regime military at the Hmeisho checkpoint" and dated on Thursday. The checkpoint is just outside Saraqeb, and one of three in the area attacked that day by rebels, who killed a total of 28 Assad soldiers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The monitoring group said Saraqeb and an area extending 25 km around it had fallen into rebel hands today after Assad troops withdrew, a significant blow to the regime as it attempts to cling onto the northern city of Aleppo where for the past three months the two sides have been locked in the conflict's most high-stakes battle to date.

Highways from Damascus to the south and Latakia, a regime stronghold to the southwest, converge in the town of Saraqeb so the government's ability to resupply its war-weary troops in the north is now severely compromised. The regime had already been impeded when the rebels seized the town of Maarat al Numan, further down the main Damascus highway, a month earlier, but today's gain cuts of both major supply routes from the south.

Both sides have been accused of committing massacres and summary executions of prisoners in the past, but as the bitter 20-month conflict drags on tactics appear to be becoming ever more brutal. Previously the FSA leadership has condemned such acts but can wield little control over the disparate groups on the ground and an influx of foreign Islamic jihadists has further complicated their efforts.

The video will cast a shadow over an opposition meeting in Doha next week, where the US is pushing for a significant shake up of the structure of the Syrian opposition. The Obama administration has called for a more inclusive body to represent the rebellion, voicing concerns that if the opposition does not unite the revolution runs the risk of being hijacked by extremists.

The new council, hoped to function as a transitional government, is expected to be announced in the second half of next week. It will supersede the controversial Syrian National Council (SNC), which includes figures who have spent years in exile and is criticised for being out of touch.

Riad Hijab, Syria's defected prime minister is among those mooted for inclusion as is Riad Seif, a veteran opposition figure who played a key role in formulating the plan. However, members of the SNC have voiced opposition to the initiative while Syria's ally Russia today rounded on the US for its interference, saying the plan contravenes an earlier agreement in Geneva that a transitional government should be  agreed by both sides.

*Warning: Graphic scenes of a disturbing nature*

To see the video click here

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence