Those carrying out the abuses do not appear to be answerable to any of the main opposition structures, Human Rights Watch said. But it is nonetheless important for opposition leaders to “make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap, or execute under any circumstances,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s Middle East director.
“The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups,” Whitson said.
Her group quoted a witness called Mazen as saying that three people who worked with the government had been tortured to death in the northern village of Taftanaz. An opposition activist called Samih told Human Rights Watch that members of the Free Syrian Army were kidnapping Syrian soldiers and exchanging them for ransom in the nearby town of Saraqeb.
In addition, Human Rights Watch said it had viewed 25 videos on YouTube that showed instances in which members of the Syrian security forces had been detained by the opposition and forced to confess to crimes under duress. One video showed the apparent execution of a member of one of the pro-government militias known as shabeeha. The man was hanged on a tree.
Foreign reporters have been mostly barred from entering Syria during the year-long uprising, and it is difficult to independently confirm details of what is happening there. But violent clashes between security forces and the armed opposition appear to be continuing.
A rare gun battle broke out early Monday between rebels and security forces in an upscale neighborhood of central Damascus, taking the violence that has ravaged many other parts of Syria to the heart of the capital and undermining government claims that it is asserting control after a year of unrest.
Residents of the western Mezzeh neighborhood, which is home to foreign embassies, government offices and senior officials, described hearing explosions and gunfire over several hours, starting early Monday morning. Many said this was the fiercest fighting yet in the capital since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule began a year ago.
Video footage posted on YouTube showed a burned-out apartment on the top floor of a six-story building, with bullet and shrapnel scars in the stairwell indicating a fierce battle.
The government and the rebels gave conflicting accounts of what had occurred. The official Syrian Arab News Agency said the battles erupted when government forces stormed a “terrorist” hideout in an apartment building in the area. It said two gunmen and a member of the security forces were killed, but it gave no further details.