Syrian rebels kill 123 people in north, majority civilians
Damascus says it has held ‘fruitful’ talks with UN chemical arms investigator
Residents collect their belongings from the damage and debris left of their homes after what activists said was an air attack from forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad in Bab Neirab, Aleppo today. Photograph: Hamid Khatib/The Irish Times
Syrian state media have accused insurgents of killing 123 people, the majority of them civilians, during a rebel offensive this week to take the northern town of Khan al-Assad.
A two-year revolt-turned-civil war has left more than 100,000 people dead and both forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad and rebels are accused by rights groups of war crimes.
State news agency SANA said that “armed terrorist groups” committed a “massacre ... mutilating the bodies of the martyrs and throwing them in a big hole on the outskirts of the town, in addition to incinerating a number of (their) bodies.”
The accusations come a day after a rebel group, calling itself the Supporters of the Islamic Caliphate, posted a video on YouTube of around 30 bodies of young men piled up against a wall who they said were pro-Assad militiamen.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group, cited activists yesterday in Khan al-Assal who said that more than 150 soldiers were killed on Monday and Tuesday in and around the town, including 51 soldiers and officers who were executed.
Having won Western support in the early stages of the revolt, the opposition has since succumbed to infighting between moderate and hardline Islamist groups. Meanwhile, Dr Assad has been able to rely on Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group to support his crackdown.
Islamist militants fought with ethnically Kurdish units today near the border with Turkey in part of an ongoing territorial dispute.
The war - pitting Sunni majority rebels against Dr Assad’s own Alawite sect and Shi’ite Hezbollah - has descended into sectarian hatred.
Insurgents have focused on taking isolated army outposts, mostly in rural areas while forces loyal to Assad have made gains in recent months around the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs.
Meanwhile, Syria has said it held “fruitful” talks with a United Nations chemical arms investigator, but did not say if his team would be allowed to follow up on allegations that such weapons were used in its civil war.
Ake Sellstrom’s full team has not been allowed into Syria due to diplomatic wrangling over access. His mission this week was to prepare the ground for an investigation.
Syrian state news agency SANA said Mr Sellstrom had met with foreign minister Walid al-Moualem. It quoted a foreign ministry statement as saying the discussions were “comprehensive and fruitful and led to an agreement on the means of moving forward”.
It did not say if the agreement included access for Mr Sellstrom’s team.
Damascus has so far refused to let UN investigators go anywhere except Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province, where Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government and its Russian ally say rebels used chemical weapons in March.
The United States said last month it had proof that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against fighters trying to overthrow Dr Assad.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has insisted that his team be permitted to visit at least one other location, the city of Homs, site of an alleged chemical attack by government forces in December 2012.
Both sides deny using chemical weapons in a war which the UN says has killed 100,000 people.