Islamist rebels execute 56 Syrian soldiers

2015-09-19 18:03
ISIS members (File, AP)

ISIS members (File, AP)

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Beirut - Islamist rebels, led by the al-Qaeda branch in Syria, have executed 56 government soldiers at an air base under the opposition's control in north-western Syria, a monitoring group said.

The soldiers were shot to death in a mass execution days ago at the Abu al-Duhur airport in Idlib province near the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The insurgents, headed by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, captured the air base on September 9 after besieging it for almost two years.

The latest executions bring to 71 the number of regime troops killed by Islamist rebels since opposition forces took over the base, which was the government's last military stronghold in Idlib, according to the Britain-based observatory, which monitors the Syrian conflict through a network of opposition activists in the country.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has battled a range of rebel forces, as well ISIS, since mass protests against his rule descended into civil war in 2011.

Moscow said last week that it had been openly sending military equipment to the Syrian government to fight terrorism, specifically ISIS, which has gained significant territory since early 2014 in both Syria and Iraq.

Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, said on Friday it was ready to consider sending troops to Syria if Damascus asks.

The situation is made more complex by military operations against ISIS inside Syria by a US-led coalition.

The Syrian conflict is becoming "more complicated" because of "Russian engagement," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in London after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Moscow has shrugged off US concerns of Russian troops in the conflict, saying that "Russian military specialists" have been in Syria for many years to help with Russian-made equipment.

Kerry said Saturday that US and Russian defence ministers have spoken by phone extensively on defeating ISIS, and Moscow's help would be welcomed.

"But the other part of the equation is Assad and how you resolve the fact that he is a magnate for foreign fighters to come to the region," Kerry added.

Meanwhile, in central Syria, at least 26 people were killed late Friday in a wave of airstrikes by government jets in the Islamic State-held ancient city of Palmyra, the monitoring group said.

The head of the observatory, Rami Abdel-Rahman, described the bombardment as the heaviest since the extremist militia seized Palmyra in May.

The dead included 12 ISIS members, his group said.

In recent weeks, the jihadist group has blown up the ancient Temple of Bel and some of the famed tower tombs in Palmyra, a Unesco listed World Heritage Site.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  isis  |  unesco  |  syria  |  security

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