A new United Nations report says the fighting in Syria is being increasingly fought along sectarian lines. Human rights investigators also expressed concern about the prevalence of foreign fighters in the conflict.
The 10-page report, unveiled at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday, detailed what the chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria described as "an extremely bleak picture of the devastating conflict and humanitarian law violations by both sides."
"We think this is a war where no military victory is possible," Paulo Pinheiro said.
The investigators also found that the front lines in the conflict were changing. While rebels continued to fight against government troops to try to bring down the regime of President Bashar Assad there was also an increase in overtly sectarian fighting.
"What we found in the last few months is that the minorities that tried to stay away from the conflict have begun arming themselves to protect themselves," Karen Abuzayd, one of the investigators told reporters in Brussels.
The report says a growing number of people from minority groups have felt forced to align themselves with parties to the conflict as a matter of self-defense. It illustrates this point with a quote from a member of the Turkmen community living in the town of Latikia.
"It is too dangerous to live beside neighbors who are armed [and consider you to be a rebel], while you yourself remain unarmed," the man said.
However, the report added that the most significant sectarian divide remains that between Assad's Alawites and the majority Sunni community. The Sunni's, it said, were being supported by fighters from other countries who slipped across the border to join rebel groups or fight alongside them independently. It said the majority of foreign fighters in the country supported the Sunni or rebel side.
"They come from all over, Europe and America, and especially the neighboring countries," Abuzayd said, adding that investigators had identified fighters from a total of 29 different states.
Putin denies Assad support
Also on Thursday, Russian President Vladimr Putin used his first annual speech to the nation since returning to the post earlier this year, to express his views on Syria. Putin denied the Western notion that Russia continues to support Assad and said what was most important, was that the fighting end as soon as possible.
"We are for a solution being found to the problem that would save the region and the country from, firstly, falling apart, and from a never-ending civil war. Our position is not to keep Assad and his regime in power at any cost," Putin said.
Russiahas been criticized for blocking a number of draft resolutions at the UN Security Council aimed at increasing the pressure on Assad's regime.
According to UN estimates, at least 20,000 people have been killed since the uprising in Syria began with peaceful protests in March 2013. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the figure at more than 44,000.
pfd/dr (dpa, Reuters, AP)
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