Some of the Syrian opposition groups carried out a "chilling" wave of torture, kidnappings and summary killings, Amnesty International has said. In a report released on Tuesday (5 July), the group says it also noticed rebels using methods of abuse that are similar to those employed by Syrian government forces.

The rights watchdog's conclusion is based on interviews with 70 individuals from insurgents-controlled areas like Aleppo and Idlib in northern Syria. Five groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad have been held responsible for war crimes. The groups are also accused of abducting at least 24 people belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, torture and detention of activists, lawyers and children.

Philip Luther, director of Amnesty's Middle East programme, said: "While some civilians in areas controlled by armed opposition groups may at first have welcomed an escape from brutal Syrian government rule, hopes that these armed groups would respect rights have faded as they have increasingly taken the law into their own hands and committed serious abuses."

The abuses were committed over four years by groups backed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey as well as by al-Qaeda affiliates in the country.

Luther added that several civilians have been living in constant fear of being kidnapped if they make any attempt to criticise the functioning of the armed groups that are in control of a region or if they do not adhere to the stringent rules laid out by the forces. Some of them were abducted for merely playing music, the report said.

Media activists have reported that they were tortured the same way the government carried out indiscriminate attacks. One example is of a political activist who was abducted in April 2015 in Aleppo and faced the brunt of attacks by Nureddin Zinki rebels, until he was forced to confess to a crime.

He spoke to Amnesty of his ordeal during which he was suspended from his wrist and made to hang from the ceiling for several hours. He was later squeezed into a tyre with his hand bound behind his back and beaten with a wooden stick.

"It is critical that Russia and the USA, and the UN Special Envoy to Syria, prioritise detention by government forces and abduction by armed groups during their ongoing talks in Geneva. For its part the UN Security Council must impose targeted sanctions on leaders of armed groups who are responsible for war crimes," Luther said.

However one of the groups, Ahrar al-Sham, that was named in the report has said that it would meet Amnesty to clarify the issues, although it did not respond to the allegations, the Associated Press reported.

Aleppo airstrikes
People gather on a heavily damaged street following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held Shaar neighbourhood of the northern city Aleppo [File photo] Thaer Mohammed/ AFP