IS shows force on ground with executions in Syria ancient city

Friday 22/05/2015
Horror in world’s most fascinating sites

BEIRUT - The Islamic State jihadist group shot dead at least 20 men in the ruins of Syria's ancient city Palmyra Wednesday, accusing them of fighting for the government, a monitoring group said.

"IS executed 20 men by firing on them in front of a crowd gathered in Palmyra's Roman theatre, after accusing them of fighting for the Syrian regime," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.

"IS gathered a lot of people there on purpose, to show their force on the ground," Abdel Rahman said.

IS has carried out a string of atrocities including videotaped beheadings and mass killings, rape and enslavement in areas it controls in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

IS seized Palmyra, including its UNESCO world heritage site, on May 21, after a bloody assault that lasted nine days.

The Britain-based Observatory said IS had executed at least 217 people, including 67 civilians, in and around the city.

The United Nations chief said in a report on Syria that people of Syria are losing hope in the fifth year of a civil war that has brought levels of death and destruction that are so extreme they should shock the world's collective conscience.

The war has killed more than 220,000 people and left a third of the population homeless. Of the country's roughly 23 million people, some 12.2 million are in need of humanitarian aid, including 5 million children, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his monthly report published on Wednesday.

"The level of carnage and devastation throughout the Syrian Arab Republic should shock the collective conscience of the world," said Ban's report, which covers the month of April and was largely prepared by outgoing UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

"The Syrian people are losing hope," he said. "They cannot afford to wait. A political solution must be found.

"The conflict will end with a political settlement, not with a military solution," Ban added.

"The sooner that that is recognized by all those engaged in the conflict, the better it will be for the Syrian people and the more lives will be saved." U.N.-mediated peace talks have resumed in Geneva, but diplomats say no breakthroughs have emerged.

Last month, Amos urged the Security Council to impose an arms embargo and sanctions on Syria for violations of humanitarian law.

Ban accused Syrian government forces of using barrel bombs, which he said indiscriminately harm and kill civilians. He also accused Islamic State militants, who have taken over large swaths of Syria and Iraq, of killing and kidnapping civilians and destroying and damaging Syrian cultural heritage sites.

"Parties to the conflict continue to behave with impunity and total disregard for the basic tenets of humanity and international humanitarian law," Ban's report said.

"It is difficult to believe that those who drop barrel bombs or launch mortar rounds and artillery shells do not realize the immense harm and suffering that their actions are causing to civilians," Ban said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied that his forces use barrel bombs, though Western officials and rights groups say the denial is not credible.

Ban reported that humanitarian aid access to civilians remained problematic, partly due to the fighting but also because of obstruction by the parties to the conflict, especially the government.

He also said the number of attacks on medical facilities was alarmingly high.