* Navi Pillay urges both sides to protect civilians
* Her office sees pattern in attacks by Assad forces
* Increasing allegations of executions, torture by
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, July 27 U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay
urged both Syrian government forces and rebels on Friday to
spare civilians in Aleppo, voicing deep concern at the
"likelihood of an imminent major confrontation" in the city
reminiscent of other deadly assaults.
A "discernable pattern" had emerged as President Bashar
al-Assad's forces attempt - using intense shelling, tank fire
and door-to-door searches - to clear areas of Syria's biggest
urban centres they say are occupied by insurgents, she said.
"All this, taken along with the reported build-up of forces
in and around Aleppo, bodes ill for the people of that city,"
Pillay said, adding that such attacks were also continuing in
two other major cities, Homs and Deir al-Zor.
From the Baba Amro enclave of Homs last February, to Douma
and Tremseh and Damascus in recent weeks, government forces have
used heavy weapons to bomb an area, move in to remove rebels and
leave behind security forces and snipers to prevent their
return, a U.N. human rights official in Geneva told Reuters.
"An area will be identified as being opposition-controlled
or full of opposition supporters, and the government will
surround it and shell it with different kinds of heavy weapons
and artillery, including the increased use of helicopter
gunships in Aleppo and Damascus," the U.N. rights official said.
Referring to a massacre of up to 200 people in mid-July in
Tremeh in central Hama, the official said: "In Tremseh, they
would do house-to-house searches and ask the women where are the
men? When they found some they would look at their identity
cards and the man would be executed or detained or left alone."
Witnesses have said that government forces sometimes burn or
take away the bodies of those executed in raids. "Or they would
take detainees to the air force intelligence or military
intelligence facilities," the U.N. official said.
Such counter-insurgency operations continue on the Old City
of Homs, where an enclave of rebels remain, the official added.
Pillay cited unconfirmed reports of atrocities, including
executions and shooting of civilians by snipers during recent
fighting in the Syrian capital Damascus.
ALLEGED CRIMES BY INSURGENTS
Her office had also been receiving an increasing number of
reports of opposition fighters torturing or executing prisoners.
"We're told by some commanders or Free Syrian Army leaders
that they have what they call prisoners of war," the U.N. human
rights official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We've heard from various sources that they do abduct or
kidnap some high-level army officials or police and attempt to
get a ransom," the official said.
The U.N. human rights office had received allegations about
rebel forces submitting captured Syrian soldiers and police to a
makeshift proceeding "where a sentence is passed, the death
sentence in some cases," the official added.
"But we do not have reports of mass killings of civilians by
Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, said that murder or
a "wilful" killing, whether committed by government or
opposition forces, may constitute crimes against humanity or war
crimes. Torture is also prohibited under all circumstances.
Crimes against humanity and war crimes continue to be
committed in Syria, she said, adding: "Those who are committing
them should not believe that they will escape justice."
She also voiced concern at reports that unarmed prisoners
had been killed in the central prisons of Aleppo and Homs during
uprisings in the past week, in violation of international law.
Pillay called for an investigation by independent experts
into the incidents, echoing an appeal by Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based group on Friday quoted "Samir", an inmate
in Homs central prison, as saying that after a prisoner riot on
July 21, government forces surrounded the facility and fired
live rounds and teargas, killing at least seven inmates.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and