(NEW YORK) - Amnesty International is raising urgent concerns today about the threat to civilians living near opposition fighters’ bases in the Syrian governorate of Tartous. In a new briefing, the human rights group said civilians are at risk of extrajudicial executions at the hands of pro-government forces, following the deliberate killing of 13 members of the same family in the village of al-Baydah.
"The killing of 13 civilians from the same family, including women and children, in one village is deplorable," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program director.
The bodies of three brothers were found with bullet wounds just outside their home in the western Syrian village last weekend. Four female relatives and six children between the ages of two and 13 were found dead inside the house. The killings took place shortly after pro-government forces clashed with opposition fighters close to the family home.
The incident came three months after mass killings of more than 250 civilians on May 2 and 3 in the same village and the nearby city of Banias. Research carried out by Amnesty International found that pro-government forces were behind the deaths of at least 138 killed in Banias and 130 in al-Baydah.
According to testimonies from survivors and eyewitnesses, attackers carried out house-to-house raids, rounding up residents in al-Baydah and Banias. Unarmed men, women, and children were lined up in the streets and shot at close range. Others were shot dead in their homes.
"This raises serious concerns that civilians in al-Baydah and Banias, particularly those in vicinity of opposition fighters, are being targeted as a deliberate tactic to forcibly displace as many civilians as possible in order to leave opposition fighters more exposed and without a local support base," said Luther. "Pro-government forces seem to be targeting civilians in these areas with total impunity. Investigators from the United Nations must be granted immediate access to Syria in order to investigate all civilian killings since the uprising began in 2011."
Amnesty International is calling for all attacks on civilians to stop. The organization holds the Syrian authorities directly responsible for violations committed by government-sponsored militias.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.