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Terrorism & Security

War-crime accusations emerge as Syrian rebels take strategic town

Syrian regime forces may face logistical problems after withdrawing from the strategic town of Saraqeb. The UN says a video that has emerged appears to show rebels committing war crimes.

By Staff writer / November 2, 2012

Residents and members of the Free Syrian Army protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Saraqeb near Idlib in this October 15 file photo.

Courtesy of Shaam News Network/Reuters/File

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have left a key town between Damascus and the battleground city of Aleppo, hindering the regime's ability to supply its troops. But the rebels' takeover of the town of Saraqeb also appears to have involved war crimes, which were recorded and published online.

Reuters reports that, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Saraqeb and its surroundings are now "completely outside the control of regime forces" after the regime pulled its troops from their last base in the region. The town, located at the crossroads of two major highways (see a map here), is a key strategic point between Aleppo, where rebels and government forces have been fighting since July, and Mr. Assad's stronghold of Damascus. The Observatory's director, Rami Abdelrahman, said that, as a result of losing Saraqeb, the military would be forced to send its supplies to Aleppo via smaller rural roads or via a dangerous road from the east.

But while the military's withdrawal from Saraqeb may be a strategic victory for the rebels, the fighting in the region also appears to have entailed war crimes committed by the opposition. A newly posted video on YouTube shows disturbing footage of what seems to be several rebel soldiers executing unarmed and wounded regime captives. Reuters reports that the executed men were soldiers captured during rebel attacks on three checkpoints around Saraqeb before the withdrawal.

The video footage showed a group of petrified men, some bleeding, lying on the ground as rebels walked around, kicking and stamping on their captives.

One of the captured men says: "I swear I didn't shoot anyone" to which a rebel responds: "Shut up you animal ... Gather them for me." Then the men are shot dead.  

Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

Mr. Abdelrahman said the attacks resulted in 28 soldiers killed, including those executed in the video. He also said the killers in the video were members of the Al Qaeda-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group.

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