Mass grave of 230 tribespeople found in Syria’s Deir Ezzor: monitoring group

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A militant guards a building under the control of a Syria rebel group in the old city of Aleppo on December 6, 2014. AFP / Zein al-Rifai

Published Thursday, December 18, 2014

The bodies of 230 people killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group have been found in a mass grave uncovered by their relatives in Syria's eastern province of Deir Ezzor, a monitoring group said Wednesday.

The discovery brings the number of Shaitat tribal members slain during the jihadists' summer advance in Deir Ezzor province near Iraq to more than 900, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based group said it had "learned from trusted sources that more than 230 bodies have been found in a mass grave in the desert near al-Kashkiyeh in the east of Deir Ezzor."

The "vast majority" were civilians, many of them executed in cold blood when the tribe rose up against ISIS after it had driven out rival jihadists and rebels from the area.

ISIS, which first emerged in Syria's war in the spring of 2013, controls large swathes of northern and eastern Syria, as well as parts of neighboring Iraq.

Hundreds more members of the Shaitat tribe are still missing, the Observatory said.

The tribespeople discovered the grave as they returned to their villages months after losing their battle against ISIS and being displaced. They have been allowed to return only after agreeing to respect an ISIS-imposed curfew, as well as a prohibition on gatherings and weapons.

A UN refugee agency (UNHCR) report published mid November shows that about 13.6 million people have been displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq, many without food or shelter as winter starts. The 13.6 include 7.2 million displaced within Syria – an increase from a long-held UN estimate of 6.5 million, in addition to the estimated 3.3 million Syrian refugees abroad.

When ISIS withdrew in February from Aazaz in the northern province of Aleppo, the Observatory said a possible mass grave was found in the town.

ISIS has so far executed thousands in Syria and Iraq committing some of the wars’ worst atrocities, targeting ethnic and religious minorities in particular, as well any who opposes the group’s ideology; however, reported discoveries of such graves have been rare in the Syrian conflict, which broke out in March 2011.

Prominent human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report in early November saying that ISIS militants in Syria forced children as young as 14 to watch videos of beheadings and beat them with cables during six months of captivity.

The militants abducted a group of children on May 29 as they returned to the Syrian town of Kobane after taking school exams in the city of Aleppo. It freed the final 25 hostages on October 29.

The abuse of more than 150 children amounted to war crimes, HRW said, citing testimony from interviews with four boys among the group.

Kobane, a predominantly Kurdish town on the Syrian border with Turkey, has been besieged by ISIS militants for more than two months.

Such atrocities have been much more frequent in neighboring Iraq, where at least 9,500 civilians have been killed, 17,500 wounded, 1.9 million displaced,190,000 left to seek safety, and around 2700 missing since the jihadist group’s onslaught in June.

The UN released a 29-page study early October, listing a litany of gross abuses and violations of international humanitarian law being perpetrated by ISIS and associated armed groups "with an apparent systematic and widespread character" in Iraq.

On Monday, ISIS released pictures of the execution of 13 men described as “anti-jihadist” tribal fighters near the northern city of Tikrit.

Hundreds of tribesmen have been executed in Iraq so far by ISIS. In October, in a chain of executions, the militant group killed around 335 members from Iraqi Albu Nimr tribe in Anbar’s Ramadi district.

The group killed at least 1,700 Iraqi Air Force soldiers in June in an attack on Camp Speicher in Tikrit, northwest of the Iraqi capital. At the time of the attack there were between 4,000 and 11,000 unarmed cadets in the camp.

Moreover, the UN report cited abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence against women and children, including the forced recruitment of minors.

Women have been treated particularly harshly, the report said: "ISIS (has) attacked and killed female doctors, lawyers, among other professionals."

On Wednesday, ISIS executed at least 150 women who refused to marry its militants in the western Iraqi western province of al-Anbar, Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights said.

In August, the group took 450-500 women and girls to the Tal Afar citadel in Iraq's Nineveh region where "150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria, either to be given to ISIS fighters as a reward or to be sold as sex slaves."

The fate of the girls remains unknown.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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