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New videos from Syria spotlight conflict's brutality

By Alexandra Zavis and Nabih Bulos

9:05 PM EDT, May 16, 2013

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New video surfaced on the Internet on Thursday purporting to show Syrian rebel fighters killing 11 prisoners they accused of taking part in massacres by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

It was the latest of many grisly videos that have spotlighted the growing sectarianism and brutality on both sides of a conflict that has killed at least 80,000 people since 2011, according to new United Nations estimates.

Another video circulating on the Internet appears to show a Syrian rebel commander mutilating the corpse of a dead soldier while shouting sectarian insults, drawing condemnation this week from New York-based Human Rights Watch.

It was among the most graphic evidence yet of the difficulties faced by Western leaders who are weighing whether to provide more robust support for the Syrian opposition, which includes extremist elements.

The Times could not independently verify the contents of these and other videos posted on the Internet. The U.N. pulled out its observers last year, and Syrian authorities heavily restrict access by international journalists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group,  said on its Facebook page Thursday that the new video appeared to show members of the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front conducting execution-style killings in the eastern province of Dair Alzour.
 
The Observatory said it had not confirmed when the alleged killings took place or the identity  of the victims,  though it believed the video was recorded sometime last year.

The video appears to show a man in a black balaclava standing behind a row of kneeling prisoners.

“The sharia court of Al Nusra Front in the eastern region of Dair Alzour has ruled that it will execute these apostate soldiers because of the massacres they perpetrated against our brothers and people in Syria,” the man says.

He then appears to shoot the prisoners one by one in the back of the head, some of them twice. The men slump to the ground as other men holding black flags shout “God is great!”

The Observatory identified the man allegedly conducting the shootings as a rebel commander who it said was killed in fighting in March.

It was at least the second such video to surface this week.  A video said to be from the northern city of Raqqa purportedly shows rebel gunmen summarily killing three blindfolded men in a public square.  A man speaking in the video says the shootings were in response to  killings in the coastal city of Banias this month, according to a translation provided by the Reuters news agency.

The Observatory said Thursday that 145 people were killed when government troops and allied gunmen stormed a predominantly Sunni Muslim neighborhood in Banias on May 3, more than double its previously reported toll. The victims included 71 men, 40 women and 34 children, according to the Observatory, which posted a photograph on its Facebook page of bloodied bodies stacked in a street.

“This massacre is considered to be one of the most horrendous war crimes committed by the Syrian security services and the pro-regime gunmen, since the victims were targeted for their religious background,” the Observatory said. “We at the SOHR demand that this case, and all cases of war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war, be referred to the International Criminal Court.”

Syria’s Sunni majority has been the driving force behind the rebellion, while members of Assad’s Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot, occupy top security positions. 

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Times staff writer Zavis reported from Los Angeles and special correspondent Bulos from Beirut. Staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.