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Syria attack kills 21; rebels say protect U.N. monitors

BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least 21 people were killed on Tuesday in an attack in northern Syria, activists said, and members of a team of U.N.

by FP Staff 16 May 02:45 am IST

     

BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least 21 people were killed on Tuesday in an attack in northern Syria, activists said, and members of a team of U.N. monitors caught in the incident said they were in rebel hands "for their own protection."

When Reuters asked one of the four monitors by phone if they were being held prisoner, he said: "We are safe with the (rebel) Free Army."A spokesman for the rebel military council said the rebels were working on a safe exit for the monitors."They are now with the Free Army which is protecting them. If they leave, the regime will terminate them because they have witnessed one of its crimes and it does not want them to tell the truth," Major Sami al-Kurdi told Reuters."We will get them out tomorrow," he said later.Each side blamed the other for the attack in Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province.Some rebel and opposition sources put the death toll from the attack as high as 66.Pro-government Addounia TV said gunmen had opened fire on the monitors, but did not mention casualties.The monitor who spoke to Reuters said gunfire had erupted as a seven-man U.N. team toured Khan Sheikhoun, then a blast damaged one of the group's vehicles.Ahmad Fawzi, international mediator Kofi Annan's spokesman, said the convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device."Three U.N. vehicles were damaged but no U.N. personnel were hurt in this explosion. The mission has sent a patrol team to the area to help to extract those U.N. military observers," he said in a statement.Internet footage appeared to show a white vehicle like those used by monitors with a damaged front. In Damascus Major General Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. monitoring mission, told reporters the team was safe, without elaborating.A British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said government troops had opened fire on a funeral procession in the town, about 220 km (140 miles) north of Damascus.The group said a total....
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