A key opposition group said on Saturday that Syria's conflict is not sectarian, contradicting warnings earlier this week by a UN team that increasing sectarianism is threatening whole communities.
"The Syrian revolution is neither sectarian nor bloody," the Syrian National Council said, two days after UN investigators described the 21-month conflict as "overtly sectarian in nature."
The SNC said the revolt against President Bashar al-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, UN 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 UN 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."