- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Syrian opposition groups, including rebels backed by the United States, have committed atrocities ranging from abductions and torture to summary killings, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Despite being born out of protests waged against President Bashar Assad, at least five armed opposition groups have since adopted policies on par with those employed by the Syrian leader, the report suggests.

“While some civilians in areas controlled by armed opposition groups may at first have welcomed an escape from brutal Syrian government rule, hopes that these armed groups would respect rights have faded as they have increasingly taken the law into their own hands and committed serious abuses,” said Philip Luther, the director of the Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

The U.K.-based human rights group published its findings in a report released after conducting interviews with around 70 people working or residing in rebel-controlled sections of Syria, including Idlib and Aleppo.

According to those interviewed, opposition groups including the Nour al-Dine Zinki Movement, al-Shamia Front, Division 16, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement in Idleb have committed actions that Amnesty International said amount to war crimes.

The United States, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are responsible for vetting armed groups and coordinating the supply of lethal and non-lethal equipment, including ammunition and salaries, Amnesty International said in its report. At least seven of the roughly 31 armed groups operating in Syria have been vetted by that coalition, including those now accused of committing war crimes.

“Many civilians live in constant fear of being abducted if they criticize the conduct of armed groups in power or fail to abide by the strict rules that some have imposed,” Mr. Luther said.

“In Aleppo and Idleb today, armed groups have free rein to commit war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law with impunity. Shockingly, we have also documented armed groups using the same methods of torture that are routinely used by the Syrian government.”

The briefing released Tuesday references two-dozen abductions that have occurred in rebel-controlled regions since 2011, as well as instances of summary killings by gunfire and allegations of torture.

“They are in control of what we can and cannot say,” said “Issa,” a 24-year-old media activist who recalled his experience working in the region to Amnesty International. “You either agree with their social rules and policies or you disappear. In the past two years, I was threatened three times by Jabhat al-Nusra for criticizing their rule on Facebook.”

“I was happy to be free from the Syrian government’s unjust rule but now the situation is worse. I publicly criticized Jabhat al-Nusra on Facebook. … The next morning Jabhat al-Nusra forces took me from my home,” added a Idleb-based lawyer interviewed for the report.

Amnesty International in its report asked world leaders, including the U.S., to “pressure armed groups to end such abuses and comply with the laws of war.”

Roughly 400,000 people have died since anti-Assad protests in 2011 turned into what has become a five-year-long civil war, the United Nations said in an April report.

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