BEIRUT -- Gruesome video footage purportedly showing a Syrian rebel commander mutilating the corpse of a dead soldier while shouting sectarian insults has drawn condemnation from Human Rights Watch and focused renewed attention on battlefield atrocities in Syria.
A statement by the New York-based rights group cites a video circulating widely on the Internet that appears to show the insurgent leader using a knife to cut the heart and liver from the corpse and then putting the heart in his mouth.
“I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs — we will eat your heart and livers!” the commander declares while brandishing the organs, directing his macabre message to Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!”
He is referring to the Alawite Muslim sect, a minority in Syria whose members include Assad and many of his top security personnel. Most Syrian rebels are members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority.
The video appears to be further dramatic evidence of how Syria’s more than two-year civil war may be disintegrating into a sectarian bloodbath.
Human Rights Watch said the man in the video appeared to be a rebel figure known as Abu Sakkar, of the Independent Omar al-Farouq Brigade, which arose out of fierce fighting last year in the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs. The brigade is one of scores of rebel factions in Syria that answer to no central command.
It is apparently separate from the better-known Farouq Brigade, one of the best-known rebel units in Syria. A spokesman for the Farouq Brigade said the man pictured in the video has no relation to the group.
The same brigade had been implicated last month in “indiscriminate shelling” of several Lebanese Shiite villages in the northern Bekaa Valley, just across the border from Syria, Human Rights Watch said.
The organization repeated its call on the U.N. Security Council to refer the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecutions of war criminals on both sides of the conflict.
“One important way to stop Syria’s daily horrors, from beheadings to mutilations to executions, is to strip all sides from their sense of impunity,” said Nadim Houry, Middle East deputy director of Human Rights Watch.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Brig. General Salim Idris, who heads the U.S.-backed Syrian Military Council, a rebel umbrella group, said he hadn't seen the video but added that any rebel fighters engaging in such atrocities would be punished.
“Look, it is very clear that these kinds of behaviors, this cutting of bodies, is not allowed,” Gen. Idris told Time.
Human Rights Watch said the rebels lacked proper accountability measures. "It is not enough for Syria's opposition to condemn such behavior or blame it on violence by the government," Houry said. "The opposition forces need to act firmly to stop such abuses."
For the record, 1:39 p.m. May 14: An earlier version of this post referred to the group identified by Human Rights Watch as the Farouq Brigade. The correct name given by the rights group is the Independent Omar al-Farouq Brigade, which is believed to be a separate entity from the better-known Farouq Brigade.