BEIRUT -- Syrian rebels led by al Qaidas regional affiliates killed and kidnapped hundreds of civilians during an offensive in coastal Syria in early August, one of the worst atrocities ever blamed on forces fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, according to a report to be released Friday by an international human rights group.
Investigators for Human Rights Watch said the killings were carried out Aug. 4 in villages in Syrias Latakia province, which is Assads ancestral home. Most of the victims were Alawites, members of the Muslim sect to which Assad and much of Syrias elite belong.
As many as 190 civilians in 14 villages were summarily executed during the onslaught, the group said. Another 200 were kidnapped and remain missing. The death toll may be even higher, the group said. Investigators who visited the scene said a doctor at one hospital reported receiving 205 bodies, some of which had been decapitated and several of which were bound.
Human Rights Watch didnt directly implicate the U.S.-backed Supreme Military Command or its Free Syrian Army in the atrocities. But it noted that defected Syrian army Gen. Salim Idriss, who heads the Supreme Military Command, had issued statements that indicated his fighters were taking part in the offensive. The group said those statements should be examined to determine what role his fighters might have played in the killings and kidnappings of civilians.
Human Rights Watch also called on Idriss and the Syrian Opposition Coalition, a U.S.-backed civilian anti-Assad umbrella group, to cease cooperation and coordination with and support to armed groups credibly found to perpetrate systematic abuses against the civilian population; and in particular Ahrar al Sham, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, Jabhat al Nusra, Jaish al Muhajireen wal-Ansar and Suquor al Izz.
Those five groups were the key fundraisers, organizers, planners and executors of the Latakia campaign, the report says. The Islamic State, Nusra and Jaish are al Qaida affiliates; Ahrar al Sham and Suquor al Izz are conservative Islamist groups.
The report also singles out Turkey, calling on it to do more to stop foreign Islamist fighters from crossing into Syria.
Given that most foreign fighters in these groups reportedly gain access to Syria via Turkey, it says, Turkey should increase border patrols (and) restrict entry of fighters and arm flows to groups credibly found to be implicated in systematic human rights violations.
It says Turkey should investigate and prosecute those in Turkey suspected of committing, being complicit in or having command responsibility for international crimes and that the United Nations Security Council should take steps to make sure that Turkey does.
There was no immediate comment from Idriss or the Syrian Opposition Coalition. The Turkish Embassy in Washington didnt respond to emailed questions.
In recent weeks, Free Syrian Army rebels and fighters from the Islamic State have battled each other across northern and eastern Syria. But at the time of the Latakia assault, the two groups cooperated closely.
On Aug. 6, the Syrian Opposition Coalition praised the role of the Islamic State and Nusra in the capture of a Syrian government base in Idlib province. On Aug 10, Idriss released a statement that said his fighters were participating in the Latakia offensive and that they were under orders to protect civilians on both sides of the conflict.