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Syria: Bashar al-Assad's forces kill at least 15 in Sunni Muslim village

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says woman and two children among victims of soldiers and pro-government militia

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 15 people in a Sunni Muslim village north-west of the city of Hama.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a woman and two children were among those killed in the overnight attack in the village of Sheikh Hadid by soldiers and pro-Assad militia.

The British-based group, which monitors violence in Syria through a network of activists and medical and security sources, said the killings followed attacks by rebels on military checkpoints in the area over the previous two days.

It said 26 people – 16 soldiers and 10 members of the pro-Assad National Defence Force – were killed when rebels attacked a nearby checkpoint on Thursday. There was also fighting in the village of Jalma, two miles south of Sheikh Hadid, on Friday.

The US and Russia, which back opposing sides in the war, agreed a week ago on a timetable for dismantling Syria's chemical weapons arsenal after an attack in Damascus last month killed hundreds of people.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Syria had made a full disclosure of its chemical weapons within the deadline stipulated by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, last week. The organisation's experts are reviewing the reports.

Russia could rethink its support for Assad if Syria failed to stick to the terms of the agreement. Sergei Ivanov, President Vadimir Putin's chief of staff, told a conference in Stockholm: "I'm talking theoretically and hypothetically, but if we became sure that Assad is cheating, we could change our position."

Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian refugees were intercepted by Italian coast guards off the coast of Sicily. A first boat carrying 299 people, more than half of them women and children, was escorted to the port of Syracuse, Sicily, late on Friday. On board was the corpse of a woman who died during the journey.

The reason for her death was still unknown, but fellow refugees said she was diabetic and had died after falling ill more than two days earlier, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.

The people on the boat said they had left from Egypt about a week ago. Another boat was located overnight carrying 124 others, who also said they were Syrian refugees, and the coast guard escorted it to a Sicilian port early on Saturday.

From the start of the year to the first week of this month, 21,870 illegal immigrants or refugees have arrived on the shores of southern Italy, three times as many as the same period a year ago, the UN Refugee Agency said recently.


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