Thursday 28 August 2014
Islamic State militants killed more than 150 of the troops captured in recent fighting in north-eastern Syria
. It is the latest mass killing attributed to the extremists, activists said, with the violence coming during a 24-hour period. The troops were either shot or slashed with knives.
In southern Syria, meanwhile, the United Nations
said gunmen detained 43 UN Fijian peacekeepers during fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, and another 81 peacekeepers from the Philippines were trapped in the area by the heavy clashes between rebels and Syrian troops.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said many of the soldiers killed were rounded up on Wednesday in the arid countryside near the Tabqa airfield, three days after Islamic State fighters seized the base. The government troops were among a large group of soldiers from the base who were stuck behind the front lines after the airfield fell to the jihadi fighters.
The Observatory said around 120 captive government troops from Tabqa were killed near the base. Islamic State fighters killed at least another 40 soldiers, most of whom had been taken prisoner in recent fighting for other bases in the Hamrat region near Raqqa city, the group’s stronghold.
A statement posted online and circulated on Twitter by supporters of the Islamic State group claimed the extremists killed “about 200” government prisoners captured near Tabqa. It also showed photographs of those it said were the prisoners: young men stripped down to their underwear marching in the desert. The photos could not immediately be verified.
A video showing the same also emerged online, followed by another video posted later showing more than 150 men lying motionless – apparently dead – in a row in the sand.
While the videos could not be independently confirmed, they appeared to illustrate the claims made online by Islamic State group supporters and Syrian activists about the mass killing. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.
In its rise to prominence over the past year, the extremist group has frequently published graphic photos and videos of everything from beheadings to mass killings.
In Iraq, for example, the group killed nearly 200 men – most of them Iraqi soldiers – in late June near the northern city of Tikrit, human rights groups and Iraqi officials say. It published photos online showing dozens of men dressed in civilian clothes lined up or lying face down as militants aimed rifles at their backs. A final set of photos showed their bloodied bodies.
Such killings have not been limited to Iraq. Earlier this month, Islamic State fighters shot and beheaded hundreds of tribesmen in eastern Syria who had risen up against the group.
A UN commission accused Islamic State on Wednesday of committing crimes against humanity in Syria – echoing UN accusations against the group in Iraq.
Islamic State’s surge is one aspect of Syria’s multi-layered civil war, a bloody conflict that has killed more than 190,000 people and destabilised the region.
The office of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon
did not identify the armed group holding the 43 UN peacekeepers in the Golan, where fighting has raged this week between Syrian rebels and government forces.
Several rebel groups operate in the Golan, while Islamic State has no known presence. The UN said another 81 peacekeepers were “currently being restricted to their positions” in the vicinity of Ruwaihaniyeh and Burayqa.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the 81 trapped troops were from the Philippines and the 43 seized ones from Fiji, Reuters reported
The Philippine army said in a statement that militants and had surrounded the Philippine contingent’s encampments with Fijian hostages in tow and demanded that the Filipino troops surrender their firearms.
"The Philippine peacekeepers held their ground and demonstrated their resolve to defend their positions," it said. "They did not surrender their firearms as they may in turn be held hostage themselves."
The Syrian government denounced the “kidnapping” of the UN peacekeepers. In a statement issued by the Syrian foreign ministry, the government said it held “the terrorist groups and those who support them fully responsible for the safety of the UN peacekeepers, and calls for their immediate release”.
The statement from Ban’s office said the UN was “making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers,” who are part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof), the mission that has been monitoring a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.
As of July, Undof had 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.
Fijian army commander Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga told Reuters on Friday he would not recommend to his government that Fijian forces should abandon the country’s commitment to peacekeeping in Syria.
"If I was to make any recommendation, I would increase our forces in Syria … If we don’t want to do this, then who else in the world would want to do this?" he said.
Heavy fighting has engulfed the Syrian side of the Golan since Wednesday, when rebels captured a crossing on the disputed frontier with Israel. A rebel spokesman said the opposition is focused on fighting President Bashar Assad, and poses no threat to Israel.
On Thursday, government warplanes targeted several rebel positions in the area, including in the village of Jaba, the Observatory said. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, also reported the air raids.
The Observatory said heavy clashes were raging between the rebels and the Syrian military in Jaba and the surrounding countryside.
White plumes of smoke set off by exploding mortar rounds could be seen on Thursday from the Israeli side of the Golan. The sound of small arms fire could be heard echoing in the background.