UNITED NATIONS, Sept 11: A new United Nations report reveals that both sides in the Syrian civil war have committed grave crimes in violation of international law.

Government forces continue to attack civilians in what amounts to crimes against humanity, says the report, released on Wednesday by the UN Human Rights Council.

But anti-government groups, in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad, have themselves committed war crimes, including murder, torture and hostage-taking, it says.

It provides details of nine massacres that it is investigating, eight believed to have been carried out by the regime and one by the opposition.

The report comes as the international community grapples with how to respond to a chemical attack in Syria last month that was allegedly launched by the government. One of the eight massacres the report attributes to government forces is a notorious event that occurred in the village of Al-Bayda in May.

Some victims in Al-Bayda “appeared to have been hit in the head with blunt, heavy objects”, the report states. “Bodies of 30 women, also apparently executed, were found in a house not far from the centre while tens of bodies were strewn in the streets. Between 150-250 civilians were allegedly killed.”

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that government forces and affiliated militia, including the National Defence Forces, are the perpetrators of the Al-Bayda massacre,” the report says.

Other massacres attributed to the government involved indiscriminate shelling of certain areas and the killing of civilians by snipers.

Unlawful killings by government forces also were reported at detention centres, where there was a spike of deaths of people in custody, the report says.

Shootings at checkpoints and snipers killing civilians in Damascus are also blamed on the government forces.

The anti-government war crimes recorded in the UN report are mostly attributed to jihadist groups who joined the battlefield late but are now among the most powerful groups.

In June, anti-government forces, including members of the jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra, attacked the Shia areas of the village of Hatla. “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the anti-government fighters who attacked Hatla and unlawfully killed at least 20 civilians in violation of international law,” the report states.

The execution by anti-government forces of a 15-year-old boy accused of blasphemy is attributed to the ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria. Another unlawful death recorded by the United Nations is that of a Catholic priest in Idlib. The priest was one of the few remaining Christians in a town where Jabhat al-Nusra operated, the report states. —Masood Haider

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