At Least 24 Executed For Setting Wildfires in Syria

( CNN ) – At least 24 people were executed in northern Syria on Saturday for accidentally starting dozens of wildfires that devoured crops and forests and prompted evacuations, a rights group said. Military…

At Least 24 Executed For Setting Wildfires in Syria

( CNN ) – At least 24 people were executed in northern Syria on Saturday for accidentally starting dozens of wildfires that devoured crops and forests and prompted evacuations, a rights group said.

Military officials in the town of Ein Zivan, which is near the Turkish border, said they were executing the people “for committing unlicensed firework firing squads,” according to Bassam al-Shami, a spokesman for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

All of the 24 were sentenced to death, al-Shami said. A 60-year-old man and eight teenage boys were among those executed, he said.

Ein Zivan’s fires — set intentionally or not — displaced at least 700 people and destroyed hundreds of acres of land, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

The Syrian military sent troops to battle the flames, which raged at a time when Syria was making peace overtures with rebel groups battling President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in their areas.

In his most extensive peace speech since the uprising against his rule began in March 2011, al-Assad said the country must “share” its fields with those who support it.

The Damascus government has received assurances that the opposition will support the peace negotiations, al-Assad said in remarks carried by state-run media.

The government later announced it had accepted — but did not name — a draft deal for a ceasefire in the country. But it said it would only allow two-week pauses, not short ones, in hostilities.

The statement said it was accepting the truce proposal and hoped it will be implemented “within hours.”

Among the violence, at least 90 people were killed across Syria Saturday, according to the Observatory, which monitors the conflict.

At least 53 troops and 34 rebels were killed in the southern province of Daraa, where rebels have been entrenched for months, al-Shami said. Among the slain was the chief of Daraa’s military council.

At least 10 people were killed in neighboring Quneitra province and the northwestern Idlib province, al-Shami said.

People in Damascus’ Kfar Souseh district were still fleeing from a rooftop battle involving the regime and rebels from the al-Nusra Front, a powerful extremist rebel group that has claimed responsibility for attacks on the capital, al-Shami said.

The fighting in the center of the capital seemed to die down Saturday evening, leaving the rebels largely abandoned, he said.

Shami cited unidentified sources, but he could not independently confirm the stories. Syrian rebels who had been fighting with Kfar Souseh said battles were ongoing, according to al-Shami.

Turkey’s rights minister, Sadullah Ergin, said five Turkish citizens were killed in Thursday’s fire. The Turkish Embassy had not yet received official word of their deaths, according to Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu Agency.

Kurdish groups have blamed both the government and the rebels for the fires, and Turkey has made its position clear that the country does not recognize al-Assad’s legitimacy.

Syria and Turkey, one of the country’s strongest backers, have had a rocky relationship in recent years, and Turkish authorities appear to have taken retaliatory steps against Syrian rebels and their supporters in Syria, despite recent peace overtures from Damascus.

During the fighting on Friday, a fighter jet shot down a helicopter belonging to the rebel Free Syrian Army, killing the pilot, Anadolu said.

A large cache of explosives, ammunition and related items was found by the Syrians, Anadolu said.

The Observatory also reported explosions at a military air base in northern Syria, saying they killed 20 members of the Syrian military.

It’s unclear whether the explosions occurred in connection with the helicopter strike.

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