Syrian opposition fighters looted, destroyed churches — HRW

Published January 23rd, 2013 - 08:34 GMT
Syrian opposition forces have been accused of looting religious sites.
Syrian opposition forces have been accused of looting religious sites.

Syrian opposition militia deliberately destroyed religious sites in northern Syria late last year, a report published today by Human Rights Watch suggests.

Teams from the New York-based group toured areas in Idlib and Latakia governorates, finding evidence Shia places of worship and Christian churches had been looted and destroyed.

The HRW team visited Sunni, Alawite, Christian and mixed-sect villages in the two provinces and found evidence of attacks on religious sites after they fell under opposition control. Witnesses also told the monitors gunmen looted private homes and kidnapped two villagers in Ghasaniyeh and Jdeideh, two Christian villages in Latakia.

Government forces have also vandalized and destroyed religious sites, in what appears to be a conflict with an increasingly sectarian undertone.

“The destruction of religious sites is furthering sectarian fears and compounding the tragedies of the country, with tens of thousands killed,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Syria will lose its rich cultural and religious diversity if armed groups do not respect places of worship. Leaders on both sides should send a message that those who attack these sites will be held accountable.”

Looting and other criminal activities by opposition forces have been on the rise in recent months. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has from the start of the uprising against his rule in March 2011 called the armed groups fighting his forces “terrorists” and “criminals.”

The rebels have complained of sparse funding from foreign governments ostensibly backing their struggle and instances of personal score-settling and greed by some opposition commanders are becoming more common.

Looting, feuds between rival opposition groups and divided opinions on how to fight the revolution risk alienating them from the people they say they are fighting to protect.

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