UN panel warns of 'overtly sectarian' divisions in Syrian conflict

 

The 21-month-old civil war in Syria is rapidly devolving into an "overtly sectarian" and ethnic conflict, a UN investigatory panel has concluded, raising the specter of reprisal killings and prolonged violence that could last for years after the government falls.

The report by the U.N. Human Rights Council also documented widespread human rights abuses by Syrian government forces, including systematic torture in prisons and the deliberate bombing and shelling of hospitals and other civilian targets.

"In recent months, there has been a clear shift" in the nature of the conflict, with more fighters and civilians on both sides describing the civil war in ethnic or religious terms, said the report, due for release Thursday in Geneva. The council described a sectarian conflict emerging "alongside the fight against the government," with far-reaching consequences for Syria's future.

Many of the rebel fighters interviewed by the panel — including defectors and foreign volunteers — described themselves as loyal to Islamist militias or ethnic-based movements, and not to the opposition Free Syria Army, the report's authors found. Civilians, likewise, are increasingly being drawn into the opposing camps, they said.

"Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides," the report stated.

The report was the gloomiest portrayal of the conflict by the Geneva-based council since it established an independent rapporteur on Syria last year. Investigators for the U.N. body have interviewed more than 1,200 victims and refugees over the past year, most recently under the direction of Carla del Ponte, a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court who investigated alleged war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

Syria has criticized the council's past reports as biased and politically motivated.

The report cited evidence of massacres by pro- and anti-government militias, as well as increasing accounts of civilians being directly targeted by artillery, aerial bombs and snipers. It also quoted former detainees who consistently described the use of torture, including electric shock applied to genitals, in government prisons. It also recounted numerous attacks on hospitals and medical clinics — assaults that, if confirmed, could constitute war crimes.

"As the conflict drags on, the parties have become ever more violent and unpredictable, which has led to their conduct increasingly being in breach of international law," the report stated.

The release of the report coincided with an appeal from the U.N. refugee organization for $1 billion to assist the growing throngs of Syrian refugees encamped in bordering countries. Officials in Geneva appealed to international donors for the money to feed and house up to 1 million Syrians who are expected to need assistance during the first half of 2013. An additional $500 million will be needed next year to help internally displaced Syrians, according to the refugee agency.

Syrian troops, meanwhile, continued to pound rebel strongholds near Damascus on Wednesday as part of a new offensive against opposition forces in the outskirts of the capital. State-run news agencies said the operations have killed "scores of terrorists," the term used by the government to describe rebel fighters.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency also reported fighting in the towns of Darayya, Douma, Harasta and Hajar Aswad.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral