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Syrian forces executed prisoners before fleeing Idlib: Monitor

Syria's opposition sees in Idlib's capture 'an important victory on the road to the full liberation of Syrian territory'
A member of Al-Fateh Army prostrates himself (as a gesture of gratitude to God) after the militia seized control of Idlib from pro-Assad forces, Syria on 28 March, 2015 (AA)

Syrian government forces apparently executed at least 15 prisoners in the city of Idlib before rebel fighters overran the provincial capital, a monitor said on Sunday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bodies of at least 15 detainees had been found after the northwestern city was taken by a coalition of forces.

"The number of bodies found in a military intelligence detention facility in Idlib city has risen to 15," the Britain-based group's director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The group had earlier reported the discovery of at least nine bodies believed to be prisoners executed by pro-Assad forces before they withdrew from the city.

Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which took part in the rebel coalition offensive, released a video on Twitter showing fighters from its group discovering the bodies in a prison in Idlib.

At least nine bodies of prisoners were visible in a single dark cell, five of them lying side-by-side, and several partially covered in blood.

It was unclear how the men had been killed.

The discovery came after a coalition of rebel fighters seized full control of Idlib on Saturday, on the fifth day of fighting for the city.

The grouping, known as the Army of Conquest, brings together militants from Al-Nusra with Islamist allies including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham organisation.

The capture of Idlib makes the city only the second provincial capital in Syria to have fallen from government control, after the March 2013 loss of Raqa city.

Raqa was captured by various rebel groups that were subsequently ousted from the city by the Islamic State (IS) group.

IS has since made the city the de facto Syrian headquarters of its "caliphate."

With Idlib's capture, the rebel allies control most of the northwestern province, though pro-government forces maintain a presence in two additional cities, as well as the Abu Duhur military airport and several military bases in the region.

Last November, Al-Nusra and allied forces ousted a series of Western-backed rebel groups from Idlib.

The city's capture was welcomed by the main opposition National Coalition, which said it represented "an important victory on the road to the full liberation of Syrian territory".

Without making reference to the composition of the forces that captured Idlib, the calition said it had "confidence" that they would protect civilians and abide by international law.

It said Idlib's capture only reinforced the need for international action to defend against government aerial attacks.

Meanwhile, pro-Assad member of Parliament Ahmed Shalash predicted that Idlib would not remain under rebel control for more than 10 days, vowing to shave his own moustache if government forces did not recapture it within the time he specified.

Syrian state media did not initially report Idlib's capture by rebels, despite the spread of the news internationally.

Militants inside Idlib shared on social media photos and videos of posters of Assad being torn down and a statue of Hafez al-Assad (Bashar's father, who ruled Syria before him) being destroyed.

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