Defectors from Syrian security forces have said that they received orders from their officers "to shoot and kill protesters," to disperse them, according to
Human Rights Watch ( HRW), dpa reported.
In a statement released on Saturday and distributed in Beirut, the New York-based rights group said eight soldiers who had defected from the army since anti-government protests started in mid-March, said they had participated and witnessed the shooting and wounding of dozens of protesters.
"We received orders to kill protesters," a soldier who was deployed for a month in the southern city of Daraa, before defecting on June 1, told HRW. "Some military refused the orders and were shot with a handgun. Two were killed in front of me, by someone in the rank of lieutenant. I don't know his name. He said they were traitors."
More than 1,400 civilians and 348 security personnel have been killed, while at least 12,000 have been arrested since anti-government protests erupted across Syria, according to human rights groups.
The death toll cannot be independently confirmed as the Syrian government has prevented foreign media workers and international rights group from entering the country.
In interviews with HRW, the soldiers said they had witnessed the arbitrary arrests and detentions of hundreds of civilians.
The interviewees told HRW that their superiors had told them that they were fighting infiltrators and terrorists, but they were surprised to see they were shooting at unarmed protesters instead.
They said they were ordered to fire on the civilians, including children, in a number of instances.
The HRW statement listed interviews with eight soldiers and four members of secret security agencies who took part in the government's crackdown in the Syrian cities of Daraa, Izraa, Baniyas, Homs, Jisr al-Shaghur, Aleppo, and the capital Damascus.
The interviews with the defectors were done by HRW in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. Most of the interviewees gave testimony on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, the organization said.
"The testimony of these defectors provides further evidence that the killing of protesters was no accident but a result of a deliberate policy by senior figures in Syria to use deadly force to disperse protesters," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director.