Human Rights Watch has thrown an unexpected twist into the debate over the Syrian government's violent crackdown on its opponents, with a report accusing Syrian rebels of kidnapping, torturing, and even executing supporters of President Bashar al-Assad. The human rights watchdog has called on rebel leaders to condemn such tactics, although the alleged culprits don't appear to be under the control of any of the main opposition groups. Still, have Syria's rebels surrendered the moral high ground?
The rebels aren't as pure as we thought: Syria's opposition has run into "some bad publicity lately," says Robert Wright at The Atlantic. Days before Human Rights Watch released its sobering report, rebels set off two car bombs that killed civilians and security forces alike. Such violence isn't exactly "shocking" in a conflict like this, but "for westerners accustomed to seeing courageous rebels pinned down in Homs, felled by ruthless Syrian forces, this sort of publicity complicates the narrative."
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But the regime's crimes are far worse: The Human Rights Watch report includes some "startling admissions," says Richard Spencer at Britain's Telegraph. One rebel, for instance, admitted that his group had executed an Air Force intelligence officer as "revenge" for "horrific killings in Homs." Still, the opposition's abuses aren't "as regular or on anywhere near the same scale" as the crimes committed by Assad's military. Remember, thousands upon thousands of innocent Syrians have been slaughtered thanks to Assad's "overwhelming and indiscriminate force."
"Human Rights Watch study details torture and executions by Syrian rebels"
The rebels may get worse before they get better: Get used to this kind of news, says Joshua Landis at Syria Comment. "The Assad regime remains vigorous and will last longer than many thought." After its defeat in Homs, the opposition has to "rebuild itself to be more Islamic, militant, and sectarian" to take down Assad. That means we'll be seeing more "Islamic martyrdom operations, and all the aspects of Middle Eastern insurgency" used so effectively by Palestinians, Afghans, and Iraqis.
"Upheaval within the opposition: Defections, terrorism, and preparing for a phase II insurgency"