Human Rights Watch has accused Islamist Syrian rebels of slaughtering nearly 200 unarmed civilians belonging to the minority Alawite sect and kidnapping hundreds more during an offensive against pro-regime villages.
The New York-based group issued a 105-page report on Friday outlining the atrocities it says were committed on Aug. 4 in more than a dozen villages in Latakia province.
"Eight survivors and witnesses described how opposition forces executed residents and opened fire on civilians, sometimes killing or attempting to kill entire families who were either in their homes unarmed or fleeing from the attack, and at other times killing adult male family members, and holding the female relatives and children hostage," the report said.
"At the time of writing, according to opposition sources, over 200 civilians, the vast majority of whom are women and children, continue to be held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, groups that led the opposition offensive," it said.
The targeted villagers belong to the minority Alawite sect which nonetheless predominates in President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Many Sunni Muslims consider the Alawites heretical.
"Some of the opposition abuses had clear sectarian motivations," the report said. "For example, in Barouda opposition fighters intentionally damaged an Alawite maqam (a site where a religious figure is buried) and appear to have intentionally damaged and dug up the grave of the religious figure buried there as well."
In the report, Human Rights Watch calls on the Syrian opposition to cut off ties with any group "credibly found to perpetrate systematic abuses against the civilian population."
Earlier this year, the group also detailed atrocities committed on civilians by the Syrian regime, including the government's use of chemical weapons in Aleppo in March.