Syrian rebels execute unarmed government soldiers

 

Beirut

Syrian rebels executed at least a half-dozen unarmed government troops Thursday after attacks on checkpoints near the town of Saraqeb in northwestern Syria.

At least 28 soldiers and five opposition fighters were killed in the rebel operation, which targeted checkpoints on roads connecting Saraqeb to Aleppo and Ariha, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The execution of the troops, documented in a graphic video posted online Thursday, is not the first time that rebels appear to have committed war crimes. U.N. representatives and human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the Syrian opposition in recent months for carrying out summary executions and abusing detainees.

In August, members of a clan loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were executed by rebels, and a video of the killings was widely disseminated on the Internet. The executions prompted some commanders of the rebel Free Syrian Army to draft a code of conduct for their fighters in a bid to curb human rights abuses. But the executions Thursday indicated that the code is not being observed by all rank-and-file fighters.

The Syrian government also has been heavily criticized for human rights abuses by the military and shabiha militiamen.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting broke out in Damascus on Thursday, and government jets bombed the Jobar neighborhood in the city, according to opposition groups.

The Observatory said at least 120 people were killed in fighting across the country Thursday.

Fighting continued unabated through the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, which ended Monday, despite a push by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to secure a truce.

Brahimi visited Beijing on Wednesday, where Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi proposed a cease-fire followed by a gradual transition of power. China is a close ally of the Syrian government, as are Russia and Iran.

Brahimi visited Cairo on Thursday and was expected to meet the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, to discuss the conflict.

The video posted online Thursday was allegedly filmed at the Hamisho checkpoint west of Saraqeb. It shows rebel fighters kicking and insulting the soldiers, who are spread out on the ground. Some of them appear to be wounded. One pleads, "I did not hit anyone, by Allah. I did not kill anyone."

The man filming the video tells the soldier to shut up and directs his comrades, "Organize them for me." The fighters pull the soldiers to the center of the room and open fire on the group, kicking up clouds of dust. The shooting continues for 20 seconds.

A second video posted online Thursday, which seems to have been filmed shortly after the executions, shows at least three other bodies spread out around the checkpoint. The man filming approaches two of the bodies and says, "The shabiha of Assad, the dogs."

- - -

Ahmed Ramadan contributed to this report.

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