BEIRUT — With the Syrian war reported to be spilling over the Lebanese border on Monday, United Nations investigators said civilians are bearing the brunt of indiscriminate air and ground assaults in the fighting over the future of President Bashar Assad.
The report was presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva by Paulo Pinheiro, the Brazilian investigator leading a UN commission of inquiry.
Pinheiro told the council that there had been a sharp escalation in indiscriminate attacks by government forces against civilians and that the commission had collected “a formidable and extraordinary body of evidence” against those responsible.
Pinheiro said the fighting also was marked by an increasing presence of “foreign elements,” including jihadist militants. Some of them joined antigovernment forces and some operated independently, he said, observing that “such elements tend to push antigovernment fighters toward more radical positions.”
Very little was known about the origins or character of these groups, Pinheiro said later, but the panel included a reference to them in its report to draw international attention to what he described as “one of the most alarming and scariest aspects” of the conflict. “They have their own agenda. They are sort of loose cannons,” Pinheiro said.
Outside groups involved in the violence ‘have their own agenda. They are sort of loose cannons.’
The militants appeared to be involved with attacks and explosions similar to the activities of militants in neighboring countries, he added. The longer the Syrian conflict lasts, he said, “the more of these kind of people will be present opportunistically taking advantage of the conflict.”
The human rights report, completed last month, found that both government and antigovernment forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Pinheiro said that the evidence could support future action by national or international courts.
Pinheiro recommended that this evidence should be sent to the Security Council, which has the authority to refer the abuses to the International Criminal Court. Underscoring the reach of the conflict and its regional perils, Lebanon’s Ministry of Information said that the Syrian Air Force had raided an area near the Syrian-Lebanese border at about noon on Monday.
Lebanese security officials said four missiles fired by two Syrian warplanes landed on Lebanese territory in the raid on Monday, hitting a remote area on the edge of the Lebanese border town of Ersal, the Associated Press reported.
“I saw lots of smoke,” said a resident of Ersal, a carpenter who identified himself only as Zaher. He said fighting started late on Sunday when opposition fighters seeking Assad’s overthrow attacked Syrian soldiers just across the border. The opposition fighters fled into Lebanese territory, followed by helicopters firing missiles.
In his remarks to the Human Rights Council, Pinheiro said the antigovernment Free Syrian Army appeared to have adopted a code of ethics but that groups affiliated with it were reported to have summarily executed 21 government soldiers in Aleppo earlier this month.
He also reported a dramatic increase in sectarian tensions.