Investigation Urged into Syrian Gorge Used to Dump Dead Bodies


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Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into a gorge in northwest Syria that was used as a dumping site for dead bodies over the years.

The rights group said in a report Monday that it learned of the al-Hota gorge, 85 kilometers north of Raqqa city, through interviews with local residents, analysis of satellite imagery, Islamic State videos and by flying a drone through the 50-meter deep gorge.

"Al-Hota gorge, once a beautiful natural site, has become a place of horror and reckoning," said Sara Kayyali, Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The group said Islamic State fighters controlled the territory around the gorge from 2013 to 2015. The rights group said across Syria, there are more than 20 mass graves containing thousands of bodies.

"Exposing what happened [at al-Hota gorge], and at the other mass graves in Syria, is crucial to determining what happened to the thousands of the people ISIS executed and holding their killers to account."

HRW said it also found evidence at the gorge that bodies were dumped there after Islamic State fighters had left the area. It said those now in control of the gorge have "an obligation to preserve the site, identify the missing, and investigate their deaths."

The rights group said the area around al-Hota gorge is currently controlled by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army while the nearby city of Raqqa is under the control of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Human Rights Watch said its drone investigation of the gorge revealed at least six bodies floating in the water at the bottom of the site and more remains likely lie below the water's surface. It also said an Islamic State video posted to Facebook in 2014 shows a group of men throwing two bodies into the gorge.

The rights group said in a report earlier this year that IS abducted and detained thousands of people during its rule in Syria and executed many of them. It said those missing include activists, journalists, militia fighters, and local residents who were targeted by the militants.