Ruth Pollard Middle East Correspondent
THE terrified men lie huddled in a group on the dusty floor of an abandoned building as armed opposition fighters kick and stamp on their bodies.
Amid the chaos, the prisoners protest their innocence, but their cries go unheeded.
Their captors – apparently fighters from the Free Syrian Army – turn their weapons on them. The volley of automatic gunfire lasts for at least 40 seconds, and by the end, their prisoners lie silent, dead.
The video that depicts the scene was distributed late on Thursday by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and Amnesty International says if it is able to be verified, it depicts a war crime.
The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory described the incident – believed to have taken place near a checkpoint outside the town of Saraqib in Idlib province north of Aleppo – as a massacre and said at least 10 and possibly as many as 28 men were killed. ”This shocking footage depicts a potential war crime in progress, and demonstrates an utter disregard for international humanitarian law by the armed group in question,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East and North Africa program director.
One commander of the Free Syrian Army condemned the killings.
Human rights groups have accused both the Syrian government forces and opposition fighters of extrajudicial executions, with a recent report from Human Rights Watch noting armed Syrian opposition groups had been torturing and summarily executing detainees in Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib.
Despite commitments from brigade leaders that they would respect human rights and curb abuses, Human Rights Watch documented more than a dozen extrajudicial and summary executions by opposition forces, although it notes these crimes are not on a comparable scale to those committed by the Syrian regime.
The release of the video follows the failure of a four-day ceasefire negotiated by UN Special Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi and the announcement from the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, of a shake-up of the splintered Syrian National Council at an Arab League-sponsored meeting in Doha next week. ”We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard.”
While some opposition groups have objected to the US attempts to dictate who should get a seat on a reformed council, those fighting against the Assad regime say something must be done to resolve the political stalemate.
More than 30,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 18-month long uprising, the Syrian Observatory says, most of them civilians.
Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, says the opposition are foreign-backed terrorists and continues to use fighter jets, helicopters and tanks to bombard cities and towns throughout the country.