Human rights campaigners have warned that Syrian opposition fighters are conducting summary killings, using child soldiers, sectarian violence and committing war crimes, as well as their pro-government foes, cautioning governments about arming the rebel groups.

The Amnesty International report, released this month on the second anniversary of the conflict, comes as David Cameron hinted for the first time that Britain could be prepared to go it alone to supply arms to Syria's rebels, defying a European arms embargo.

He, and the Foreign Secretary William Hague, have stressed the need to identify less-radical groups to combat the worrying rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Syria.

syria rebels

Anti-Syrian regime protesters raise their hands and holding Syrian revolution flags in Aleppo

Ian Lucas MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Office Minister, told HuffPost UK: “This report from Amnesty gives a worrying account of the escalating violence in Syria. The appalling human rights abuses which continue to take place must be condemned, particularly the deliberate bombing of civilians.

“Whilst primary responsibility for this conflict rests with President Assad’s forces, Amnesty’s report underlines the need for all sides to now halt the violence and take part in UN-led talks to agree a peaceful political process of transition.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander has warned that failures of the international community to stop the conflict were not linked to supplying the rebels with arms.

He wrote in the Guardian on Thursday: "The pressing task remains not to arm the rebels but to unify them.

"The country today is awash with arms and it is impossible to guarantee the end use of weapons given the lack of clarity about the identity, intent and tactics of some of the rebel forces."

In the report, Amnesty warned that armed opposition groups in the country are increasingly resorting to hostage taking, and to the torture and summary killing of soldiers, pro-government militias and civilians they’ve captured or abducted.

It said: "The dead bodies found every day in towns and villages across Syria bearing marks of execution-style killing and torture are the grim evidence of mounting war crimes and other abuses being committed not just by government forces, but also by armed opposition groups."

It warned that any state considering supplying arms must have "a robust monitoring process" and "strong mitigation measures... to allow for any arms transfer subsequently approved to be rapidly halted should evidence emerge that the arms are being or will be used to carry out serious human rights abuses, or are being transferred or diverted to third parties."

Amnesty called on governments to ban the supply of cluster bombs or land mines, which pro-government forces are suspected of using to kill civilians.

It also asked for the United Nations to "refer, as a matter of urgency, the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes under international law."

The human rights charity said opposition forces are dumping bodies in a ‘hole of death’ in Damascus, and that children have been used militarily by opposition groups - albeit usually in support roles.

syria rebels

FSA fighters pray after an attack on a Military Academy in Tal Sheer village, north of Aleppo province


Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said: “While the vast majority of war crimes and other gross violations continue to be committed by government forces, our research also points to an escalation in abuses by armed opposition groups.

"If left unaddressed such practices risk becoming more and more entrenched - it is imperative that all those concerned know they will be held accountable for their actions.

“Children in Syria are being killed and maimed in increasingly large numbers in bombardments carried out by government forces. Many have seen their parents, siblings and neighbours blown to pieces in front of them. They are growing up exposed to unimaginable horrors.

"With every passing hour of indecision by the international community, the death toll rises. How many more civilians must die before the UN Security Council refers the situation to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court so that there can be accountability for these horrendous crimes?”

Opposition force abuses recorded in Amnesty’s briefing includes an "execution video" showing a boy - apparently aged between 12 and 14 - holding a machete standing over a man, later identified as Colonel ‘Izz al-Din Badr’.

He lies prostrate on the ground with his hands behind his back. A voice in the background shouts: “He doesn’t have the strength.” The boy brings the machete down on the man’s neck, cheered on by members of an armed opposition group.

Meanwhile, in an area in southern Damascus, witnesses have described a “hole of death” - where armed opposition forces are believed to have dumped the executed bodies of pro-government fighters or those suspected of being informers.

In another case, an Amnesty researcher was told how the body of a man accused of being a collaborator was found after he was killed by an opposition group.

A neighbour told Amnesty: “We immediately went there and found him on a heap of waste, with a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead, a firearm injury to the shoulder … His knee was broken … A brown card hung on him with the words ‘collaborator (awayni), Colonel Helal Eid’.”

syria rebels

An young boy shoots his weapon towards the Syrian Army - Amnesty International have raised concerns over military use of young children in the conflict, even in assistance roles

Civilians have reportedly been killed or injured as a result of armed opposition groups preparing and storing munitions and explosives in residential buildings. The charity also expressed concerns about sectarian violence, and suggested minorities like Shi'a Muslims, Alawite Muslims and Christians were being targeted as they are seen as "pro-government."

The report added: "Opposition fighters or activists closely associated with them or their supporters have attempted to justify such killings to Amnesty International either by claims that every person killed summarily was themselves guilty of killings or by making derogatory statements about these minorities’ support for the government or by acknowledging what they said were ‘mistakes’ or ‘abuses’ committed by the opposition.

"However, no such reasons can be accepted for such killings which are gross human rights abuses and, when carried out by parties to an armed conflict, are war crimes."

CASE STUDY

Colonel Fou’ad Abd al-Rahman and Colonel Izz al-Din Badr, for example, were abducted by an armed opposition group on 16 August 2012 in Deir al-Zour where they were involved in a military course required for students at al-Furat University.

Both families interviewed by Amnesty International separately said that the abductors introduced themselves as members of an armed opposition group called the ‘Osoud al-Tawhid Battalion’.

They called both families between one to three days after the abduction and asked for a ransom. Colonel Abd al-Rahman’s family said that they had been allowed to speak to him at least once, and that he said he was being tortured and urged them to secure the ransom his abductors had asked for.

At one point, the main abductor negotiating with the two families told Colonel Badr’s wife that he was no longer holding her husband.

She told Amnesty International: "I told the abductor that my husband did not go to Deir al-Zour to fight, he’s just like an employee doing his job at the university… He said, ‘if [the religious committees] find that your husband had committed a wrongdoing, then he shall be killed. If not, then there shouldn’t be a problem’."

The negotiations continued sporadically with both families. Then one of the abductors told Colonel Badr’s wife that she should not keep working on her husband’s case because he and Colonel Abd al-Rahman had been killed and buried in al-Hamidiyeh Garden in Deir al-Zour. A few days later, video footage of the killing of both captive officers emerged.

Colonel Fou’ad Abd al-Rahman’s widow described that terrible moment: “It was around 11am. My daughter [aged 21] shouted to me, ‘mum, come and see dad… quick.’

"He was on TV… as he was shown being killed, I pushed my daughter away to block her from viewing the scene… but she did see. She had a nervous breakdown… she’s become so volatile, she’s traumatised… it’s no easy to see her father in that way… We now want his body back, and we want those who did this to be held accountable.”

SEE ALSO

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  • FILE - In this file image taken from video on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 from the Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Free Syrian Army soldiers seize the main square in the northern town of Raqqa, Syria. Since Raqqa fell under rebel control last week, opposition fighters have posted guards at government buildings to prevent looting, brought down the price of bread and opened a telephone hotline for residents to report security problems. Raqqa is shaping up as a test case for how rebels will administer their areas. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video, File)

  • In this Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter, right, watches Syrian villagers passing a checkpoint, at the main entrance of Christian village of Yacobiyeh, in Idlib province, Syria. Yacobiyeh and its neighbors, Judeida and Quniya, are some of the first Christian villages to be taken by the rebel Syrian Army. The rebels stormed these hilltop villages in late January, after the army used it as a base to shell nearby rebel-controlled areas. The villages are largely empty due to the fighting, with a few mostly elderly Christians -- including Roman Catholics and Armenian Orthodox _ living among Sunni Muslim refugees who have moved up here from the plains. They still face sporadic artillery bombardment from below. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • In this Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter from the Ghurabaa al-Sham brigade that holds a cluster of Christian villages stands guard on the roof top of his base, at the Christian village of Yacobiyeh, in Idlib province, Syria. Yacobiyeh and its neighbors, Judeida and Quniya, are some of the first Christian villages to be taken by the rebel Syrian Army. The rebels stormed these hilltop villages in late January, after the army used it as a base to shell nearby rebel-controlled areas. The villages are largely empty due to the fighting, with a few mostly elderly Christians -- including Roman Catholics and Armenian Orthodox _ living among Sunni Muslim refugees who have moved up here from the plains. They still face sporadic artillery bombardment from below.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • FILE - In this Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, A Free Syrian Army fighter, uses a video camera to observe the Syrian army forces base of Wadi al-Deif, at the front line of Maaret al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria. The rebels' capture of this strategic city was a key success in their advances in northern Syria against regime forces. But it's so far proven an incomplete victory. Maaret al-Numan remains a shell of a city. One major reason: Rebels have been unable to take a large regime military base on the edge of the city. Artillery fire from Wadi Deif and other nearby government strongholds regularly thuds into its largely empty residential buildings, while warplanes pound surrounding villages. The vast majority of the population has fled and it's too unsafe for them to return. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

  • FILE - In this Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, Free Syrian Army fighters take their positions as they observe the Syrian army forces base of Wadi al-Deif, at the front line of Maaret al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria. The rebels' capture of this strategic city was a key success in their advances in northern Syria against regime forces. But it's so far proven an incomplete victory. Maaret al-Numan remains a shell of a city. One major reason: Rebels have been unable to take a large regime military base on the edge of the city. Artillery fire from Wadi Deif and other nearby government strongholds regularly thuds into its largely empty residential buildings, while warplanes pound surrounding villages. The vast majority of the population has fled and it's too unsafe for them to return. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

  • FILE - In this Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, Free Syrian Army fighters patrol at the Aleppo-Damascus highway which is controlled by the rebels to cut supply for the Syrian army forces, at the front line of Maaret al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria. The rebels' capture of this strategic city was a key success in their advances in northern Syria against regime forces. But it's so far proven an incomplete victory. Maaret al-Numan remains a shell of a city. One major reason: Rebels have been unable to take a large regime military base on the edge of the city. Artillery fire from Wadi Deif and other nearby government strongholds regularly thuds into its largely empty residential buildings, while warplanes pound surrounding villages. The vast majority of the population has fled and it's too unsafe for them to return. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

  • FILE - In this Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, Free Syrian Army fighters take their positions as they observe the Syrian army forces base of Wadi al-Deif, at the front line of Maarat al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria. The rebels' capture of this strategic city was a key success in their advances in northern Syria against regime forces. But it's so far proven an incomplete victory. Maaret al-Numan remains a shell of a city. One major reason: Rebels have been unable to take a large regime military base on the edge of the city. Artillery fire from Wadi Deif and other nearby government strongholds regularly thuds into its largely empty residential buildings, while warplanes pound surrounding villages. The vast majority of the population has fled and it's too unsafe for them to return. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

  • FILE - In this Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, A Free Syrian Army fighter steps out from a hole wall to observe the Syrian army forces base of Wadi al-Deif, at the front line of Maarat al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria. The rebels' capture of this strategic city was a key success in their advances in northern Syria against regime forces. But it's so far proven an incomplete victory. Maaret al-Numan remains a shell of a city. One major reason: Rebels have been unable to take a large regime military base on the edge of the city. Artillery fire from Wadi Deif and other nearby government strongholds regularly thuds into its largely empty residential buildings, while warplanes pound surrounding villages. The vast majority of the population has fled and it's too unsafe for them to return. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, FIle)

  • Mideast Syria Northern Standoff

  • A Syrian girl from Aleppo looks outside a window of an abandoned building where her and several families took refuge due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

  • A Syrian woman is seen at an abandoned building where several families took refuge due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT-ANNIVERSARY-DEIREZZOR

    TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY JOSE RODRIGUEZ - Mahmoud, a free Syrian army fighter and member of a mobile tank hunting unit, moves with an SPG rocket from one front line to another during ongoing clashes with regime forces on February 28, 2013 in Deir Ezzor. Once a thriving hub of Syria's oil industry, Deir Ezzor is now a ghost town of only a few thousand people struggling tenaciously to hang on against the odds after most of its people fled. AFP PHOTO ZAC BAILLIE (Photo credit should read ZAC BAILLIE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter from the Knights of the North brigade moves to reconnaissance a Syrian army forces base of al-Karmid, at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes on rebels trying to storm a police academy outside Aleppo on Wednesday, while jihadi fighters battled government troops along a key supply road leading to the southeastern part of the city, activists said. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters from the Knights of the North brigade move to reconnaissance a Syrian army forces base of al-Karmid, at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes on rebels trying to storm a police academy outside Aleppo on Wednesday, while jihadi fighters battled government troops along a key supply road leading to the southeastern part of the city, activists said. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters from the Knights of the North brigade leave one of their caves to reconnaissance a Syrian army forces base of al-Karmid, at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes on rebels trying to storm a police academy outside Aleppo on Wednesday, while jihadi fighters battled government troops along a key supply road leading to the southeastern part of the city, activists said. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters from the Knights of the North brigade move to reconnaissance a Syrian army forces base of al-Karmid, at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes on rebels trying to storm a police academy outside Aleppo on Wednesday, while jihadi fighters battled government troops along a key supply road leading to the southeastern part of the city, activists said. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter, Abu al-Yaman, left, a commander of Knights of the North brigade, cheers as he leaves with other rebels one of their caves to reconnaissance a Syrian army forces base of al-Karmid, at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes on rebels trying to storm a police academy outside Aleppo on Wednesday, while jihadi fighters battled government troops along a key supply road leading to the southeastern part of the city, activists said. The Arabic words in the cave entrance read:"Knights of the North brigade". (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Mideast Syria Minority Fears

  • Mideast Syria Minority Fears

  • A Syrian woman carries a carpet on the rubble of a damaged building in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, Monday, Feb. 26, 2013. The Kurdish Popular Protection Units and Free Syrian Army soldiers signed a cease fire and cooperation agreement to prevent the possibility of an Arab-Kurd conflict in the future. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter weeps as he visits his father's grave who was killed by Syrian government forces shelling, at Jabal al-Zaweya village of Sarja, in Idlib, Syria, Sunday Feb. 24, 2013. Syrian rebels used captured tanks to launch a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near Aleppo and clashed with government troops protecting the strategic installation on Sunday. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter prays in front of his father's grave who was killed from Syrian government forces shelling, at Jabal al-Zaweya village of Sarja, in Idlib, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Syrian rebels used captured tanks to launch a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near Aleppo and clashed with government troops protecting the strategic installation on Sunday. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters pray inside a cave at Jabal al-Zaweya in Idlib, Syria, Sunday Feb. 24, 2013. Syrian rebels used captured tanks to launch a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near Aleppo and clashed with government troops protecting the strategic installation on Sunday. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters, dance Dabkeh (traditional dance) during a revolutionary party at one of their caves, in Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib Province, Syria, Monday Feb. 25, 2013. Syria is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition trying to topple President Bashar Assad, the country's foreign minister said Monday, in the government's most advanced offer yet to try to resolve the 2-year-old civil war through negotiations. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters, sing revolutionary songs as they gather at one of their caves, in Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib Province, Syria, Monday Feb. 25, 2013. Syria is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition trying to topple President Bashar Assad, the country's foreign minister said Monday, in the government's most advanced offer yet to try to resolve the 2-year-old civil war through negotiations. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters, dance Dabkeh (traditional dance) as they sing songs against Syrian president Bashar Assad during a revolutionary party at one of their caves, in Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib Province, Syria, Monday Feb. 25, 2013. Syria is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition trying to topple President Bashar Assad, the country's foreign minister said Monday, in the government's most advanced offer yet to try to resolve the 2-year-old civil war through negotiations. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter makes coffee, inside a cave at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib, Syria, Sunday Feb. 24, 2013. Syrian rebels used captured tanks to launch a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near Aleppo and clashed with government troops protecting the strategic installation on Sunday. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • In this picture taken on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, a Free Syrian Army fighter takes his position at a previous Syrian army forces checkpoint, at the main entrance of Christian village of Yacoubieh, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, Syria. Syrian warplanes and artillery hit targets near Damascus International Airport on Friday following a particularly bloody day of attacks in the capital that killed dozens and struck deep into the heart of the city. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • In this picture taken on Thursday February 21, 2013, Free Syrian Army fighters collect branches of trees to be used for heating on their checkpoint, at the main entrance of Christian village of Yacoubieh, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, Syria. Syrian warplanes and artillery hit targets near Damascus International Airport on Friday following a particularly bloody day of attacks in the capital that killed dozens and struck deep into the heart of the city. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • In this picture taken on Thursday February 21, 2013, a Free Syrian Army fighter, right, watches Syrian villagers pass through a checkpoint, at the main entrance of Christian village of Yacoubieh, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, Syria. Syrian warplanes and artillery hit targets near Damascus International Airport on Friday following a particularly bloody day of attacks in the capital that killed dozens and struck deep into the heart of the city. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • In this citizen journalism image taken on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 and provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, relatives and mourners carry the coffin of a Free Syrian Army fighter, Fouad Mohammed, who was injured during the battle of Taftanaz air base earlier this month, during his funeral, at Binsh village in Idlib province, north Syria. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN)

  • In this citizen journalism image taken on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 and provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, relatives and mourners prepare to bury body of a Free Syrian Army fighter, Fouad Mohammed, who was injured during the battle of Taftanaz air base earlier this month, during his funeral, at Binsh village in Idlib province, north Syria. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters hold their weapons during heavy clashes with government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. The revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011with peaceful protests but morphed into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to a recent United Nations recent estimate. (AP Photo/Andoni Lubaki)

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter displays used ordinance from government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. The revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011 with peaceful protests but morphed into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to a recent United Nations recent estimate. (AP Photo/Andoni Lubaki)

  • FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, file photo, people gather by the window of a makeshift post where Free Syrian Army fighters sell bread, in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria. Syrians face extended blackouts amid severe fuel shortages in the middle of winter and now spend hours in line every day for a few loaves of bread or gasoline at soaring prices, highlighting the mounting difficulty President Bashar Assad faces in providing basic services to his people. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon during heavy clashes with government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. The revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011with peaceful protests but morphed into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to a recent United Nations recent estimate. (AP Photo/Andoni Lubaki)

  • Free Syrian Army fighters hold their weapons during heavy clashes with government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. The revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011with peaceful protests but morphed into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to a recent United Nations recent estimate. (AP Photo/Andoni Lubaki)