Syria army quits base on strategic Aleppo road

Fri Nov 2, 2012 2:13pm EDT
 
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By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army abandoned its last base near the northern town of Saraqeb after a fierce assault by rebels, further isolating the strategically important second city Aleppo from the capital.

But in a political setback to forces battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations said the rebels appeared to have committed a war crime after seizing the base.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday government troops had retreated from a post northwest of Saraqeb, leaving the town and surrounding areas "completely outside the control of regime forces".

It was not immediately possible to verify the reported army withdrawal. Authorities restrict journalists' access in Syria and state media made no reference to Saraqeb.

The pullout followed coordinated rebel attacks on Thursday against three military posts around Saraqeb, 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Aleppo, in which 28 soldiers were killed.

Several were shown in video footage being shot after they had surrendered.

"The allegations are that these were soldiers who were no longer combatants. And therefore, at this point it looks very likely that this is a war crime, another one," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva.

"Unfortunately this could be just the latest in a string of documented summary executions by opposition factions as well as by government forces and groups affiliated with them, such as the shabbiha (pro-government militia)," he said.   Continued...

 
A Syrian army tank is seen in the Khan al-Assal area after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, near Aleppo city, November 2, 2012. REUTERS/George Ourfalian