(NEW YORK) — Sectarian violence now dominates Syria 21 months after President Bashar al-Assad began cracking down on activists supporting democratic reform.
A report released by a committee from the United Nations Human Rights Council claims that the conflict has spun so far out of control since March 2011 that it is now “overtly sectarian in nature.”
Speaking for the panel, human rights investigator Paulo Pinheiro alleged that non-stop warfare between al-Assad’s military and rebel forces has compelled entire communities to take up arms. In many cases, groups that weren’t even involved in the initial conflict have formed their own militias.
According to the report, “Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides.”
The sectarian groups mainly involved in the fighting are the minority Alawite sect, which sides with al-Assad, and its direct opponent, the Sunni Muslim majority. However, Armenians, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, Kurds and Turkmens are now involved, whether willingly or not.
Further complicating the situation are foreign fighters from neighboring Middle Eastern and North African nations who mostly support the rebel Free Syrian Army while the militant Islamic group Hezzbolah has provided soldiers from Lebanon to assist al-Assad.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephanie Halasz, Jason Hanna and Livia Borghese, CNN
Steve Almasy, CNN
Barbara Starr, CNN
Rafael Romo and Emanuella Grinberg, CNN