News / Middle East

Activists: Syrian Rebels Control Strategic Northern Town

Free Syrian Army fighters with opposition flags ride a truck, which they say was captured from the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in Saraqeb near Idlib, October 15, 2012.
Free Syrian Army fighters with opposition flags ride a truck, which they say was captured from the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in Saraqeb near Idlib, October 15, 2012.
Edward Yeranian
— Syrian activists said rebel forces have taken control of a strategic northern town that is crucial link for the government's military campaign inside Syria's largest city, Aleppo. The rebel victory in the town of Saraqeb will make it extremely difficult for government forces to bring in reinforcements and armor to defend their positions inside Aleppo.

The capture of Saraqeb by rebel forces is a major blow to the government. Both the rebels and the government have been fighting over the two main highways leading to Aleppo for days.

Rami Abd al-Rahman of the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels have now put a strangle-hold on the government's ability to resupply its positions in Aleppo.

He said that Saraqeb sits on the crossroads from Damascus and Latakiya (along the coast) into Aleppo and that rebel control will choke government supply lines leading to Syria's largest commercial hub. He added that the government must use long and dangerous detours to re-supply Aleppo.

Al-Rahman also said at least 28 soldiers were killed in the attacks on government checkpoints in the area Thursday, battles that led to the rebel control of Saraqeb.

Shortly after the attacks, a video began circulating Thursday on the video-sharing website YouTube that appears to show Syrian rebels killing soldiers execution-style. The killings allegedly occurred after soldiers' surrendered.

The video could not be independently authenticated, but is causing an international outcry among human rights groups.

The United Nations human rights body said the video is likely evidence of a war crime. Rights groups including Amnesty International have condemned the alleged attack.  

There was no immediate response from the Syrian government or from state-controlled media.

Al-Rahman said the soldiers were captured at a checkpoint along the Latakiya-Aleppo highway.

Former United Nations peacekeeping spokesman Timor Goksel, who teaches at the American University of Beirut, said summary executions are not unusual in the Middle East. But, if true, this one appears especially brazen.

"In Lebanon, during the civil war, we saw so many massacres like this," he said. "But, nobody went out and said 'hey look what we did.' These guys seem to be so proud of what they did. So, you are dealing with some very dangerous group of people who are capable of doing anything."

Several rebel leaders have accused an al-Qaida affiliated group, which calls itself the "Nusrat Front," of responsibility for the alleged execution. But Goksel said fighters in civil conflicts can be unrestrained.

"It doesn't have to be al-Qaida people. It could be any of these guys who have guns in their hands and feel that they can rule the world," Goksel said. "I mean this is a civil war mentality we have seen all too often. It doesn't matter what is their religious or political affiliation."

The French news agency reported that main opposition Syrian National Council on Friday urged rebels be held accountable for what the video shows.

Earlier, in an interview with Radio Sawa, council head Abdulbaset Sieda criticized the proposed establishment of an enlarged opposition umbrella group proposed by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton.

Sieda called the proposal "an example of foreign meddling," adding that his group remains the "voice of the [Syrian] revolution."

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