Syrian Rebels Accused of Decapitations by Rights Group

Militants fighting alongside Syrian rebel forces have beheaded two civilians with knives in front of onlookers including children, a pro-opposition group said.

The Syrian civilians were accused of collaborating with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the Coventry, U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page. The rebels, who spoke in classical Arabic with an accent, may have been Chechen, the Observatory said.

The beheading was caught on video and posted on YouTube. The civilians were captured in Khan al-Assal, a town west of Aleppo, according to one of the rebels who spoke on the film. The Observatory said it was unable to verify the location. The Syrian government in March accused rebels of firing a missile that released a thick cloud of chemical smoke into Khan al-Assal, killing and injuring more than 100 people. Rebels blamed the attack on the government.

Separately, a suicide bomber killed four and injured an unspecified number of people in the Christian neighborhood of Bab Touma close to Mariamiyah Cathedral in Damascus, Syrian State TV said today. Opposition groups said the explosion was caused by a mortar round, Al Arabiya Television reported.

Meanwhile, 12 of Assad’s troops who were captured by rebels in Deir Ezzor are pleading with the government to agree to a prisoner exchange, according to a video posted on YouTube. The men are all from Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The insurgents are mostly Sunni Muslims.

Strategic Blows

Assad, supported by the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, dealt the opposition a series of strategic blows this month. His troops this week captured Tal Kalakh, a town west of Homs, cutting off another arms transfer route for the opposition. Rebel forces retreated after more than four days of fighting, the Observatory said. Hezbollah, which the U.S. and Israel classify as a terrorist group, is backed by Iran.

Tal Kalakh is near to the Lebanese border and the Homs-Tartous highway. Earlier this month rebel forces lost al-Qusair, a city about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Homs, cutting their supplies from Lebanon.

After al-Qusair’s fall, Assad’s troops, backed by Hezbollah militiamen, headed north to the nation’s commercial capital of Aleppo and to Damascus, where activists say Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons.

Tax Rises

The Syrian government is raising taxes and fees by 5 percent for three years to help fund “reconstruction,” and will raise real estate taxes by 10 percent starting next year, state news agency Sana reported today. The nation’s central bank is using a $1 billion credit line from Iran to help support a declining Syrian pound, Sana said last week.

The U.S. and 10 other nations have pledged to increase support for opposition forces in Syria, without saying what specific steps they would take or how much firepower may be needed. France is considering sending arms to Syrian rebels “to balance” military aid to the Assad regime from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on RMC Radio.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a European Union summit in Berlin today, said Germany won’t be supplying weapons to Syria for legal reasons, and that the risks are too great.

Providing arms to either side in the Syrian conflict “is not the right thing to do,” the United Nations special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said this week.

More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad began in 2011, half of them civilians, the Observatory said yesterday.

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