Syrians were arbitrarily detained and tortured by government forces in security buildings in northern Syria, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

Its researchers found documents and physical evidence of the abuse when they visited the State Security and Military Intelligence facilities in al-Raqqa in late April after local armed Opposition groups took control of the city, the New York-based rights group said.

“The documents, prison cells, interrogation rooms and torture devices we saw in the Government’s security facilities are consistent with the torture former detainees have described to us since the beginning of the uprising in Syria,” the group’s deputy Middle East director, Nadim Houry, said.

The charges of Government abuses came the same week that a video was released showing three men being executed in a public square in al-Raqqa, now reportedly under the control of al-Nusra Front and other Islamists militants.

Summary executions and other atrocities have been widely reported on both sides in Syria’s 26-month civil war.

Surprise visit

The conflict was the reason for a surprise visit by CIA Director John Brennan to Israel. The head of the main US foreign intelligence service went straight from the airport on Thursday night to a meeting with Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, television reports said.

Mr. Yaalon emphasized that Israel would not tolerate any transfer of weapons from Syria to the militant Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, the Channel 10 television channel reported.

International concern is growing that Israel could be drawn deeper into the Syrian conflict. It has bombed targets in Syria on three occasions since the beginning of the year to block the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, according to media reports.

Israel particularly fears that planned shipments to Syria of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, which could shoot down Israeli fighter jets and cruise missiles, could escalate the conflict in Syria.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to persuade President Vladimir Putin against arms shipments when he visited Russia on Tuesday, but its Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said his country would deliver on its arm contracts to Syria.

Russia is the main supplier of weapons to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian conflict was also to be the centrepiece of talks on Friday between visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Mr. Netanyahu.

Torture device

In al-Raqqa, Human Right Watch said it found rooms that appeared to be detention cells and saw a torture device that former detainees said was used to immobilize and stretch or bend limbs.

The rights group called on the authorities now in control of the city to work with the Opposition and neutral experts to collect evidence from the site so that those responsible could be brought to justice.

The group previously said torture by the Syrian regime was a crime against humanity that should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said three peacekeepers were briefly seized on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the Dubai-Based Al Arabiya broadcaster reported.

Unknown gunmen held the peacekeepers on Thursday for five hours before releasing them unharmed. The report did not give the nationalities of the peacekeepers.

The incident came after Syrian rebels had, on Sunday freed four Filipino peacekeepers whom they had captured on the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights last week.

‘Let UN inspectors in’

Meanwhile in Moscow, United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has voiced disappointment about Syria’s refusal to let UN inspectors enter the country to check reports about the use of chemical weapons.

“It is deplorable that the team could not visit Syria to do an investigation on the ground,” Ban said on Friday after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the Interfax News Agency reported.

Mr. Lavrov said that Russia supports the UN investigation and expressed hope that an agreement between Damascus and the UN will be found.

He also expressed surprise at fresh media reports about Russian arms shipments to Syria. “I don’t understand why the media are trying to make a sensation out of this,” he said, adding that Moscow never hid that it is delivering arms to Syria in accordance with “previously signed contracts that do not violate international law.”

More In: World | International | News