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Islamic State fighters execute 250 Syrian soldiers

BAGHDAD: Islamic State fighters say they have “executed” 250 Syrian soldiers, as President Barack Obama prepares to hold crisis talks with his security aides. The soldiers were captured at the weekend when the Sunni militant group seized an air base in the province of Raqqa, in northern Syria.

The Reuters news agency said a video posted on YouTube on Thursday and purportedly showing dozens of bodies was confirmed as genuine by an Islamic State fighter.

In Washington, the White House said Obama was due to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and members of his National Security Council. The meeting will take place at 4pm local time (9pm UK time) in the White House Situation Room.

The video shows the bodies of scores of men wearing nothing but their underwear lying face down. The line of bodies appears to be dozens of metres long.

A caption written underneath says: “The 250 shabeeha taken captive by the Islamic State from Tabqa in Raqqa have been executed.” Shabeeha is the name of armed militia forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad. Tabqa is the location of the Syrian airbase that has been captured by IS in the last few days.

An Islamic State fighter in the Syrian city of Raqqa who spoke to Reuters over the internet said: “Yes we have executed them all.” Head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later confirmed that Syrian soldiers had been ‘executed’ at three different places, resulting in the deaths of at least 160.

Rami Abdel Rahman said it had happened after jihadists defeated the garrison of 1,400 at Tabqa, of whom 200 were killed in fighting, 700 escaped and dozens of the remainder were captured as they fled. Meanwhile, the United Nations says an armed group has detained 43 peacekeepers in Syria's Golan Heights. A further 81 peacekeepers are also trapped, the UN has said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the peacekeepers were detained early on Thursday during a “period of increased fighting between armed elements and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces.” The detained peacekeepers are from the Philippines and Fiji, a UN official told Reuters.

Soon after, more UN troops were seen crossing from the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights to the Syrian side. The Golan Heights straddles the disputed border between Israel and Syria. A UN statement said negotiations were under way to release those trapped or being held.

French President Francois Hollande said that the opposition forces fighting IS militants in Syria and Iraq should get more Western support. But he ruled out regarding Assad as an ally saying: “There is no choice to be made between two barbarisms.”