Human Rights Watch revealed that Syrian rebel forces have committed war crimes including the killing of civilians and the targeting of churches, during their attack on the Christian village of Sadad in late October.
According to the testimonies of villagers, the rebel fighters refused to allow them to leave their homes in areas with active fighting, while others said that the fighters used civilians as human shields.
Residents confirmed that opposition fighters also stole the possessions of some residents - looted and vandalized property in at least three local historical churches.
"Opposition fighters came into Sadad claiming they would not harm civilians, but they did just that," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said in a statement. "There is no excuse for indiscriminate or targeted attacks against civilians or civilian sites."
Opposition fighters should never execute or directly target civilians or anyone in their custody or target civilian sites, including religious sites, HRW said.
HRW identified the names of 46 people from Sadad killed in the village during the weeklong operation. Residents told HRW that 41 of the dead were civilians, including 14 women and two children.
HRW urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). An ICC referral would be a crucial first step toward achieving justice for victims of atrocities by all sides in Syria's armed conflict and would send a strong message that serious crimes will not be tolerated.
HRW also noted that fighters of both the opposition and the government have been involved in abuses, including executions, indiscriminate shelling, sniper attacks, and the use of civilians as human shields.
HRW quoted a man named Fouad who said that on October 26, three fighters who identified themselves as members of Jabhat al-Nusra came into his house and demanded his money, cell phone, and ID card. He also said rebels used him as a human shield