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BEIRUT: Gunmen early on Saturday stormed an office of a Syrian paramedic group that is active in opposition-controlled areas, killing seven of its members and stealing two vehicles and other equipment in a northwestern region, the group and opposition activists said, while a suicide attack south of the country killed at least 23 rebels.

The Syrian Civil Defence group, more popularly known as the White Helmets, said in a statement that the attack happened in the early hours in the town of Sarmin.

Sarmin is in Idlib province, which witnessed clas­hes recently between Al Qaeda-linked fighters and members of the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group that ended with Al Qaeda fighters capturing much of the region.

The Al Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, and also known as HTS said over the past weeks that its members have discovered sleepers cells of the militant Islamic State group who were planning an attack. Al Qaeda’s affiliate, which used by to be known as the Nusra Front, has fought deadly battles with IS over the past years.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven were killed after being shot in the head, adding that the killings were discovered when volunteers from the White Helmets arrived to start a shift and found the bodies of their colleagues.

“Until now it is mostly likely a crime. It might also be an attack aimed to harm the image of the Nusra Front and to show that Idlib is not safe,” said Rami Abdur­rahman who heads the Observatory.

An opposition activist based in Idlib said the attackers used pistols equipped with silencers, adding that people living nearby did not notice anything unusual.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2017

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