BEIRUT (AP) — Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around Syria, said that the fighting in northern and eastern Syria killed 1,069 since the clashes began Jan. 3.
The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.
The Observatory said that the dead included 130 civilians — including 21 who were "executed" by "Islamic State" members.
The United Nations human rights office said extremist Islamic groups are committing a "soaring" number of executions in the country's north that could amount to war crimes.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that over the past two weeks her office has received reports of "a succession of mass executions of civilians and fighters who were no longer participating in hostilities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa by hard-line armed opposition groups in Syria, in particular by the" Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
She warned that such executions violate international humanitarian law, and the numbers of such violations are thought to be alarmingly high.
The Observatory reported heavy clashes between the "Islamic State" and other opposition groups in the northwestern town of Saraqeb where the Islamic group have been advancing for the past two days.
Mamdouh Jaloul, a Syrian activist from the northwestern province of Idlib who is currently in Turkey, said the town is witnessing "fierce street battles." He said many of the town's residents fled over the past two months as a result of intense government air raids, adding that the latest clash forced the few who stayed to flee to safer areas.
The Observatory said Islamic fighters advanced in the town from the northern and eastern sides and that there were casualties on both sides.
The fighting came a day after the "Islamic State" commander in Saraqeb who was a Belgian citizen of Algerian origin was killed along with another foreign fighter when they were ambushed by a rival rebel group.