Syrian forces are executing scores of suspected opposition sympathisers in the northern city of Idlib, often burning their bodies in piles or torching them in their homes then sending family members to find them, witnesses say.
Idlib residents who spoke to an Amnesty International official last month painted a dire portrait of a city at the mercy of regime troops and irregular loyalists who routinely sweep homes seeking dissenters to kill.
The Amnesty report, prepared by senior crisis adviser Donatella Rovera, gathered harrowing testimonies of victims and their families, caught up in a purge of Idlib and surrounding villages that has steadily intensified over the past six months.
The report says hundreds of homes in some villages have been burned down and their populations terrorised by forces who kill with impunity.
After troops routed Homs in early March, Idlib became a focal point of the violence ravaging Syria, with regime forces hunting down defectors who had fled their posts in the city and rallied in the hinterland. Residents say loyalist incursions became more intensive around this time, the report confirms.
A woman whose house was set alight on 11 March was allegedly told that it was pointless reporting the incident unless she blamed terrorists.
"The neighbours saw it was military security members who attacked my house," she told Amnesty. "It was the middle of the day and there were tanks and soldiers and security force members everywhere in the area – how on Earth could this have been the doing of armed groups? So I did not lodge a complaint."
In the village of Taftanaz, two 80-year-old men were reportedly killed in their homes, which were then burned around them.
"I had been staying with relatives across the street and my husband was at home," the wife of one of the men told Amnesty. "When I went back home I found it burned down but did not find my husband. I went out and asked the soldiers outside where they had taken him. I thought they had arrested him. A soldier replied: 'Go back in and look for him'. I went back and found his remains in a pile of ash."
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