A key opposition group said on Saturday that Syria's conflict is not sectarian, contradicting warnings earlier this week by a U.N. team that increasing sectarianism is threatening whole communities.
"The Syrian revolution is neither sectarian nor bloody," the Syrian National Council said, two days after U.N. investigators described the 21-month conflict as "overtly sectarian in nature."
The SNC said the revolt against President Bashar Assad "will not divide Syrian society according to religious or ethnic lines.
"The only division that Syrian society is witnessing is between a bloodthirsty, oppressive regime... and people calling for freedom and equality," the statement said.
On Thursday, U.N. investigators said the conflict has become openly sectarian, threatening whole communities, and warned that newly formed armed Islamist groups were increasingly operating independently of the main rebel force, the Free Syrian Army.
"As battles between government forces and anti-government armed groups approach the end of their second year, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature," the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said.
"As the conflict drags on, the parties have become ever more violent and unpredictable, which has led to their conduct increasingly being in breach of international law," it said.
"The dangers are evident," it continued, citing particular tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
"Entire communities are at risk of being forced out of the country or of being killed inside the country," it said, stressing that "with communities believing -- not without cause -- that they face an existential threat, the need for a negotiated settlement is more urgent than ever."
The SNC, whose leadership is based abroad but has members who operate secretly inside the country, criticized the U.N. for conducting its investigation exclusively from outside Syria, and for failing to act against Assad.
"As such, the report was exaggerated and full of generalization."
"It is very sad that the U.N. has been reduced to a mere political analyst, while it should be bearing full responsibility and mobilizing urgent, decisive action," said the SNC.
Fabrice Balanche, director of the French research center Gremmo, says 80 percent of Syrians are Sunnis, around 10 percent belong to Assad’s Alawite community, five percent are Christian, three percent Druze and one percent Ismaili.
The SNC statement came as Islamist rebels warned two Christian towns they will be attacked if they do not evict regime forces, and as the new Greek Orthodox patriarch said Syria's often-fearful Christians will stay put.
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