Shiite Muslim militiamen from Afghanistan have been fighting in country alongside regime, activists say
The bodies of 230 people killed by the Islamic State group have been found in a mass grave uncovered by their relatives in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, a monitoring group said Wednesday.
The discovery brings the number of members of the Shaitat tribe killed during the jihadists’ summer advance in Deir Ezzor province near Iraq to more than 900, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has 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,” said the Britain-based group.
It said the “vast majority” were civilians, and that many of them were executed in cold blood after the tribe rose up against the IS after it had driven out rival jihadists and rebels from the area.
The IS controls large swathes of northern and eastern Syria, as well as parts of neighbouring Iraq.
Hundreds more members of the Shaitat tribe are still missing, said the Observatory, which relies on a large network of activists, doctors and military sources on all sides of the Syrian conflict for its reports.
The tribespeople discovered the grave as they returned to their villages from months of displacement after losing their battle against the IS.
They have been allowed to return only after agreeing to respect an IS-imposed curfew, as well as a prohibition on gatherings and weapons.
Anyone who fights the IS, according to the jihadists’ rules, will be considered a heretic and executed.
Shiite Afghans fight alongside regime: activists
Meanwhile, Shiite Muslim militiamen from Afghanistan have been fighting in Syria for months alongside troops loyal to President Bashar Assad, an activist group said Wednesday.
Afghanistan is home to a Sunni Muslim majority but nearly one fifth of the population is Shiite, mainly Farsi-speakers and from the Hazara ethnic group.
“Shiite Afghan militiamen have been fighting for several months alongside Bashar al-Assad’s army, especially around Shiite religious sites in Sayyida Zeinab” near Damascus, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
“They later started fighting alongside loyalist troops all over Syria, especially in the northern province of Aleppo,” he told AFP.
Shiites around the world revere the Sayyid Zeinab shrine, with many volunteering to defend it from any attacks in the war between Assad loyalists and mainly Sunni rebel fighters.
The Observatory did not specify how many Afghans were fighting in Syria on the regime side.
In the northern city of Aleppo, meanwhile, 16 pro-regime fighters including Afghans were killed in a clash on Tuesday night in the Malah area, said the Britain-based group.
The army has been making advances in the area, and aims to cut off a supply route used by rebels who hold more than half of Aleppo, once the country’s commercial capital.
Foreign fighters have streamed into Syria to support both sides in the conflict that broke out in March 2011 when Assad’s forces unleashed a bloody crackdown on democracy protests.
The regime has been backed by thousands of members of Hezbollah, as well as Iranian, Iraqi and Palestinian militiamen.
“The Afghan fighters are clearly driven by sectarianism,” said Abdel Rahman.
Syria’s regime has been dominated for 40 years by the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Sunnis make up the vast majority of Syria’s population, as well as the rebels fighting to oust Assad.