Free Syrian Army Denies Involvement in Reports of Rebel Murder

U.S. diplomat promises more support, opposition spokesman says.

Members of the Free Syrian Army attend a training session on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria.

A report released Friday says Syrian opposition forces murdered nearly 200 civilians in August.


The opposition movement in Syria was dealt another blow Friday following a report that claims rebel fighters murdered almost 200 Syrian civilians in August.

Human Rights Watch released a report Friday in which they accuse fighters within the Syrian opposition of committing war crimes. It cites an incident on Aug. 4 in which rebels targeted at least 190 residents of Latakia province as a part of a larger offensive to seize control from forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

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The report did not claim specific involvement by the Free Syrian Army, considered the most defined structure of Syrians fighting against the regime, and led by a former regime general who defected.

FSA has come under scrutiny by U.S. officials, including members of Congress and the Obama administration, for fear that extremist al-Qaida groups are infiltrating its ranks. FSA was quick to denounce any involvement in the incident cited by Friday's report, calling instead for justice against the perpetrators.

"We have not given cover for anyone," says Louay Mokdad, an FSA official based in Turkey who spoke by phone from the United Arab Emirates. "Anyone who commits any crime...against anyone who is not fighting, he will pay justice."

Mokdad says the FSA is fighting a war on multiple fronts, facing both the Assad regime as well as extremist groups, particularly the al-Qaida affiliated al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Secretary of State John Kerry testified before Congress this summer that such extremists comprise between 15 and 25 percent of the total rebel force.

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"It is very clear those groups are fighting us," Mokdad says. "They are not fighting with us. They are fighting the Syrian people. They are trying to hijack the Syrian revolution."

"They believe we are unbelievers and that we should die just because we believe in democracy," he says, adding these extremist groups propagate that FSA troops are agents of America and the West.

American involvement in the war in Syria has remained murky since the conflict began in March 2011. Reports that as many as 110,000 have died have prompted international outrage, though the U.S. and Western allies have proceeded slowly with support. The U.S. announced this summer it would begin to supply weapons to the rebels in addition to its non-lethal aid.

Many Syrian watchers believe this aid is outmatched by Iranian and Russian support to Assad, which reportedly includes weapons shipments and logistics.

The Obama administration almost made a major shift in its interventionist policy in September when it threatened to conduct aerial strikes against Assad's chemical weapons targets. Obama turned that decision over to Congress, which became moot after Russian leadership prompted Assad to agree to chemical weapons inspections.

There remain no repercussions, however, on the regime's use of conventional weapons in Syria.

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FSA representatives, including commander and former regime Gen. Salim Idris, met with U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford in Turkey this week, says Mokdad. The ambassador assured the delegation that the U.S. would bolster its support for the FSA.

The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation.

Mokdad would not comment on the specifics of that additional aid.

"I think the American administration, they are serious to help us," he said. "The situation on the ground is really growing worse and worse every day."

The Human Rights Watch report, entitled "You Can Still See their Blood," includes a graphic description from witnesses to the Aug. 4 attack. Al-Jazeera reports Gen. Idris confirmed his forces contributed to the offensive in Latakia "to a great extent," though this is unconfirmed by HRW.

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