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."

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs