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Syrian rebels claim key town amid 'execution' allegations

A Syrian opposition group says rebel forces have captured a key town in the north of the country. This comes amid reports of rebels beating and executing captured Syrian government soldiers.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday that troops loyal to President Bashar Assad had been forced to abandon the last checkpoint they had controlled in the town of Saraqeb. This is said to have followed a series of rebel attacks on military checkpoints in the town.

This, like most reports from the Observatory, could not be independently verified due to severe restrictions on journalists reporting from Syria.

Saraqeb is located at the junction of two main highways leading to Aleppo, meaning the loss of the town would make it much more difficult for the government side to resupply its troops fighting rebels in the country's biggest city.

Reports of summary executions

The Observatory reported that at least 28 government troops had been killed in the rebel assault on Saraqeb, but serious questions have been raised after a video posted on the Internet appeared to show rebels beating and executing several soldiers.

The human rights group Amnesty International (AI) condemned the acts portrayed in the video.

"This shocking footage depicts a potential war crime in progress, and demonstrates an utter disregard for international humanitarian law by the armed group in question," said Ann Harrison, AI's deputy program director for the Middle East in a statement posted on the organization's website.

She added that it remained unclear who was portrayed in the video, but that "[Amnesty International] will continue to investigate the incident and once again urge all sides to respect the laws of war and to refrain from torturing, ill-treating or killing their prisoners."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said the video could wind up being used as evidence in legal proceedings.

"It is very likely that this was a war crime, another one," Pillay's spokesman, Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva. At the same time he stressed the determination to bring the perpetrators to justice. "Accountability will follow," he said.

More than 36,000 people have been killed in Syria in the 19 months since the uprising against Assad's government began with peaceful protests calling for political reforms, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

pfd/kms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)