DAMASCUS, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- The governor of Syria's northwestern province of Idlib denied Friday media reports that the armed rebels have taken control over an ancient citadel in the town of Harem, the state-run SANA news agency said, as activists claimed the Syrian troops had withdrawn from another northern town.
Yaser al-Shuffi rubbished the citadel reports as unfounded, adding that they have come to lift the "devastated morale" of the armed rebels.
Harem has been reportedly surrounded by armed rebels and extremist groups since 11 days ago, reports said.
In another town in Idlib, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian troops had retreated from Saraqb, which lies at the junction of two highways leading to the northern province of Aleppo.
The Observatory said Thursday that rebels had seized three military positions near Saraqeb, adding that as many as 28 Syrian soldiers were killed during the rebels' assault.
A shocking video footage appeared on-line on Thursday, purporting to show the rebels killing a number of Syrian soldiers in cold blood after claiming control over army positions in Saraqeb.
UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing that the executed soldiers were no longer combatants. "And therefore, at this point it looks very likely that this is a war crime ..."
Saraqeb is deemed as a crucial strategic point because of its size, being the second largest city of the province of Idlib, and its geographic position at the junction of two highways leading to Aleppo; one goes south towards central Hama, Homs and the capital Damascus, and the other one leads west towards the coastal city of Latakia. It was also used as a base to launch attacks on military convoys by the western-backed rebels.
Still, the activists' narrative was impossible of being checked independently.
Meanwhile, Syria's official SANA new agency quoted an official source as saying that the Khan al-Asal area in Aleppo has been cleared from rebels by the Syrian troops.
The rebels Free Syrian Army has been regularly engaging in armed combat with government troops, and now more than ever, are better equipped with communication equipment, weapons, cash and logistical support from the West and the Gulf States.
More than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have reportedly died in Syria since the country's crisis began some 20 months ago. A further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, and over 340,000 have crossed the border to Syria's neighboring countries -- Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, according to UN estimates.
DAMASCUS, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- Syrian government troops and a shattering opposition continue to trade fire unabatingly despite international diplomatic efforts to ease the 19-month-old turmoil.
Government forces suffered an unusually high death toll of 78 from rebel attacks on Thursday, after dropping bombs at rebel positions around the country killing hundreds, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Full story