Syrian Rebels Execute Government Fighters

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: As reports emerged today that the US president, Barack Obama, had signed a secret order authorising support for the rebels in Syria, pictures emerged of some of those rebels at work.

Posted on YouTube, they appear to show fighters in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, publicly executing government fighters in a sustained burst of gunfire lasting a full 45 seconds.

Meanwhile, UN officials have confirmed that rebels now have access to tanks and heavy arms, as our Middle East correspondent Matt Brown reports from north of Aleppo.

MATT BROWN, REPORTER: This footage is said to show more than a dozen prisoners captured by the rebels in Aleppo.

This man says he's Zaino Berri, a leading figure in the Shabiha militia, loyal to the Assad regime.

They're blamed for torturing and murdering civilians over many years, but now the rebels are also being accused of committing atrocities. This footage apparently shows the rebels killing the pro-Government militia men.

(YouTube footage shows men shooting at building)

The rest of the pictures are too shocking to show. But the senior legal advisor with Human Rights Watch has seen the whole video.

CLIVE BALDWIN, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: It looks like what we've seen is execution of prisoners and that would be a war crime. Who has done it, we don't know. Elements of the armed opposition, which have all gone by the name of FSA, have certainly been committing some abuses over the last few months. We've documented that, but there seem to be many different groups involved.

We've also of course documented many extensive abuses by the government and its forces for over a year now.

MATT BROWN: The Syrian National Council has accepted that an atrocity took place.

OBEIDA NAHAS, SYRIAN NATIONAL COUNCIL: We are against the atrocities committed in this way and we condemn them and the Syrian National Council has been very outspoken and very firm on this. Don't forget that we are seeing now the victims trying to get revenge at the torturers or killers.

MATT BROWN: The US president, Barack Obama, has reportedly signed a secret order authorising US support for the rebels. The Reuters news agency says the order permits the CIA and other US agencies to provide intelligence to the rebels in an effort to oust the Assad regime.

As the battle for Aleppo continues in the south and centre of the city, the rebels have sealed off the northern outskirts. After taking an important Army base, they control the road from Aleppo to Turkey.

They've seized around a dozen tanks and armoured personnel carriers, destroying some and preparing to turn the rest of their guns on the government's forces. They're now just a few kilometres from suburbs heavily populated by government supporters.

MOHAMMAD ABDULRAHMAN, LOCAL REBEL LEADER (voiceover translation): The men here have succeeded in capturing a very strategic point. From here, we can control all of northern Syria.

MATT BROWN: When the rebels stormed this base on Tuesday, they say they killed around 15 soldiers and captured 25 more.

The rebels are proud of these tanks, but they are badly damaged and not easily supplied with ammunition. And yesterday they say the regime destroyed several, bombing them from the air.

On the northern outskirts, the evidence of a bitter contest is certainly clear. Homes and mosques have been hit by shell fire. Houses daubed with graffiti supporting the regime, even the feared secret police, have been targeted.

The rebels say this place is under their control, but they can only lay claim to the streets because every civilian, no matter what their allegiance, has fled, leaving just a ghost town.

Matt Brown, Lateline.

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