According to AFP, Islamic State (IS) jihadists have executed more then 160 fleeing Syrian soldiers, a monitoring group said Thursday (August 28), the latest in a string of brutal abuses alarming Western powers who fear a global spread of the terror campaign.
News of the killings comes as US President Barack Obama is reportedly weighing air strikes on IS positions in Syria and coming closer to greenlighting a mission to aid Shiite Turkmen trapped in an Iraqi town by the jihadists.
Syrian regime air strikes killed six IS leaders on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, but Washington has so resisted cooperating with Damascus against the jihadists.
The latest killings took place in the Syrian province of Raqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that the victims were soldiers fleeing towards government-held territory to the west after the jihadists overran their base at Tabqa.
"IS executed more than 160 Syrian soldiers in three different places in Raqa province yesterday (August 27) and at dawn today (August 28)," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Abdel Rahman said the defeated garrison comprised 1,400 soldiers, 200 of whom were killed and 700 of whom managed to escape.
COMMENT: Of the other 500, dozens were captured on Wednesday night (August 27) as they attempted to cross the desert to government-held territory in the Orontes Valley to the west.
A United Nations-mandated probe charged Wednesday (August 27) that public executions, amputations, lashings and mock crucifixions have become a regular fixture in jihadist-controlled areas of Syria.
The Syrian Air Force hit back on Thursday (August 28) with a strike on a house in the eastern town of Mu-Hassan where IS leaders were meeting, killing six of them, the Observatory said.
The UN has also highlighted the plight of the thousands of mainly Shiite Turkmen residents of the northern Iraq town of Amerli, who face danger both because of their faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance against the militants, of the sort that has drawn deadly retribution elsewhere.
Iraq is preparing its own effort, massing forces north and south of the town in Salaheddin province and carrying out air strikes against the jihadist militants besieging them.
The United States, which has been carrying out an air campaign against IS militants in Iraq since August 8, has begun surveillance flights over Syria too, a possible precursor to air strikes.
The US focus on Syria comes after President Bashar al-Assad's regime said on Monday (August 25) it was willing to work with the international community, including Washington, to tackle IS.
He renewed his proposal to host an international conference "to organize the coordination of international action against IS on humanitarian, security and military fronts."
The growing numbers of Westerners joining IS and other extremist groups has raised fears that they could return home and carry out attacks.
US officials have confirmed that US citizen Douglas McCain, 33, was killed in Syria fighting for IS, and were investigating reports that a second American had been killed fighting for al-Qaeda's Syria franchisee.