UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Syria's foreign minister claimed Monday that his government is fighting a war against al-Qaida-linked militants who eat human hearts and dismember people while they are still alive, then send their limbs to family members.
Walid al-Moallem, addressing world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, also charged that the U.S., Britain and France had blocked the naming of the real perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, which he blamed on the opposition.
He claimed "terrorists" fighting the regime in the civil war are being supplied with chemical weapons, but he did not name specific nations accused of supplying them.
President Barack Obama told the same forum last week that it was the President Bashar Assad's regime that was behind a chemical weapons attack in August that killed hundreds in the Damascus suburbs and brought threats of a retaliatory U.S. strike.
Syria subsequently committed to getting rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons and the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to oblige it to do so based on a plan made by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Al-Moallem claimed that it is clear to all that offshoots of al-Qaida — "the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world" — is fighting in the Syrian civil war. But some countries refuse to recognize it, he charged.
"The scenes of murder, manslaughter and eating human hearts were shown on TV screens, but did not touch blind consciences," al-Moallem said.
"There are innocent civilians whose heads are put on the grill just because they violate the extremist ideology and deviant views of al-Qaida. In Syria ... there are murderers who dismember human bodies into pieces while still alive and send their limbs to their families, just because those citizens are defending a unified and secular Syria."
A video published online in May purported to show a member of Syria's armed opposition eating a human heart while the body of a Syrian soldier lay close by. The video drew condemnation from human rights groups as well as the Syrian National Coalition, one of the main opposition groups.
Another video the minister referred to purportedly showed rebels grilling the head of a Syrian soldier.
As rebels gain more territory and a multitude of militias, jihadists and criminals join the fight against Assad, reports of serious human rights abuses committed by armed opposition elements are on the rise.
Summary executions committed by rebel forces — albeit on a far smaller scale than the regime's alleged atrocities — have put the West in a difficult position as it seeks to arm, train and otherwise aid the rebels.
Al-Moallem said his government was committed to a political solution to the conflict, which he called a war against "terror" and not a civil war as the international community has been referring to it for months. He added that "terrorists" from 83 countries are operating in Syria.
The Syrian regime has long referred to the entire opposition rising up against Assad as "terrorists."
"Our commitment to a political solution does not mean watching our mosques and churches destroyed, as is happening in Homs and Aleppo, and is happening now in the town of Maaloula, the only place in the world whose people still speak the language of Jesus Christ."
The al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, carried out an armed attack on Maaloula in western Syria earlier this month. Rebels from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army also fought government forces on the outskirts of the town, home to around 2,000 mostly Christian residents.
The Assad family relied on the support of religious and ethnic minorities in its tight control of Syria for the four decades preceding the civil war. Some minorities, particularly Christians and members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, have been the target of violent attacks during the war.
Alawites are a minority in Syria while the opposition is dominated by the majority Sunni sect.
Al-Moallem said armed Islamist groups in Syria are using "perverted concepts of religion that have nothing to do with Islam." He condemned what he called the Islamists' "perverted fatwas such as sexual jihad."
Rumors have long circulated about women, mostly foreign, engaging in sexual relations with jihadist militants fighting among the rebels as a way of supporting them. Syrian state media have shown women purportedly "confessing" to such activity with foreign fighters, however the claims could not be independently verified.
The Syrian foreign minister also touched on regional issues drawing attention to his government's call a decade ago to making the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
"Syria stresses that establishing a free zone of weapons of mass destruction in the region is unachievable without the accession of Israel, the only nuclear power in the region, to all treaties banning such weapons," he said.
Israel does not deny or confirm that it has nuclear weapons though it is widely believed to possess them. Israel has also not ratified the world convention banning chemical weapons.