BEIRUT – The unsteady, hand-held video shows several bloodied prisoners, one in boxer shorts, being led into a noisy outdoor crowd and placed against a wall. The prisoners crouch and seem to avert their eyes as men carrying assault rifles shout slogans and take aim. The gunfire lasts for more than 30 seconds.

The international community has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces of war crimes, but the gunmen in this gruesome video were rebels. Their slogans: “Free Syrian Army Forever!” and “God is Great!”

The video, which surfaced online this week, is fueling concerns that opposition fighters are capable of brutality that matches that of the regime they are fighting — a charge that could badly damage the rebellion’s ability to claim the moral high ground in the Syrian civil war.

As rebels gain more territory and a multitude of militias, jihadists and criminals join the fight against Assad, reports of serious human rights abuses committed by armed opposition elements are on the rise.

“As the Free Syrian Army and armed opposition gain more ground control, they are at a crossroad,” said Nadim Houry, researcher at the New York based Human Rights Watch.

“They can either go down the route of revenge and killings and replicate the behavior that we have seen by pro-government forces, or take a genuine decision showing that what they’re fighting for is not just about revenge but about human rights and justice,” he said.

The video sparked international condemnation, including a rare rebuke of rebel tactics from the Obama administration on Thursday.

“This is abhorrent and inconsistent with the type of struggle for freedom and a new Syria that the broad opposition is looking for,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

He said “summary executions committed by any party are abhorrent and inconsistent with international law, and those responsible must be held to account.”

 


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