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Pro-Turkey rebels 'execute' nine civilians in Syria: Monitor

Kurds say female Kurdish party official and her driver are among those killed
Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters sit inside military vehicle near border town of Tal Abyad, Syria, on Saturday (Reuters)

Pro-Ankara fighters taking part in a Turkish offensive on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria "executed" at least nine civilians on Saturday, a monitor said.

"The nine civilians were executed at different moments south of the town of Tal Abyad," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Kurds said a female Kurdish party official and her driver were among those killed, AFP reported.

Hevrin Khalaf was "taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions", the political arm of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said in a statement.

"This is a clear evidence that the Turkish state is continuing its criminal policy towards unarmed civilians," it added.

A map sent by an SDF official showed the location of the incident on the M4 highway southeast of Tal Abyad, Reuters said.

Khalaf had been returning from a meeting at the time of the attack, Hussein Omar, the Future Syria Party's coordinator in Europe, told Reuters. Party officials including Khalaf have had contacts with US officials since it was founded in 2018, he said.

Asked about the accusation that Turkey-backed groups had killed Khalaf, the spokesman for the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, which groups Syrian rebel factions, said they had not made it as far as the highway known as the M4.

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"I confirm to you that our forces have not reached the M4," Youssef Hammoud said in a voice message to Reuters.

Asked about the Observatory report that rebels had killed a total of nine civilians on the road, he gave the same answer.

Later on Saturday, the Syrian National Army said it had ordered commanders to "continuously supervise combatants on the frontlines to prevent any abuse".

Perpetrators of possible abuses "would face the most severe sanctions and be brought to justice for military disobedience", it said.

Kurdish activists circulated two videos on social media of the killings.

The first, posted on the Twitter account of the Ahrar al-Sharqiya rebel group, shows two people in civilian clothes kneeling on the ground as a fighter next to them announces they have been captured by the faction.

The killing of two Kurdish captives by Arab fighters is a powerful illustration of the forces unleashed by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull back American troops shielding the Kurds, the New York Times said.

Trump on Sunday gave his blessing to the Turkish operation targeting the US's erstwhile Kurdish partners, saying the United States would stand aside as Ankara launched its "long-planned" operation.

In the second video, an unidentified fighter opens fire at a person on the ground wearing civilian attire.

The Observatory confirmed the authenticity of the videos, although AFP could not independently verify them.

Turkey and its allied fighters began the offensive on Wednesday to push back the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF, from its border.

The deaths brought to at least 38 the number of civilians killed on the Syrian side since the start of the assault, according to the Observatory.

It said 81 Kurdish fighters had also been killed in the clashes.

Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist" group with links to Kurdish rebels in Turkey who have been waging an insurgency for three decades.