Those killed Thursday and Friday were used as human shields against attacks forcing ISIS out of southern parts of Mosul, the source said. ISIS dumped the corpses in a mass grave at the defunct College of Agriculture in northern Mosul, the intelligence source said. The victims, including children, were all shot, said the source, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. CNN could not independently confirm the killings.
Separately, according to Reuters , roughly 1,000 people had been treated for breathing problems linked to toxic gases from a sulphur plant which ISIS militants are suspected to have set on fire near the city of Mosul. No deaths were reported in connection with the incident, said the sources at the hospital in Qayyara, a town south of Mosul.
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At the same time, in Russia's latest public bid to preserve the Syrian status quo, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in televized remarks on Saturday that Assad needs to stay in power to prevent the country from falling into the hands of jihadis, and added that the entire territory of Syria must be "liberated," dismissing demands for Syrian President Bashar Assad's departure as "thoughtless."
"There are just two options: Assad sitting in Damascus or the Nusra sitting in Damascus," Peskov said in a reference to the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in Syria that renamed itself Fatah al-Sham Front earlier this year. "And Assad must sit in Damascus to ensure a political settlement." The spokesman said the goal of the Russian campaign is to fight "terrorists," saying that the fall of the Syrian government would cause new flows of refugees and more terror attacks in Europe.
Referring to the US, Peskov then said that "some countries are trying to play with the devil and use terrorists to get rid of Assad, and some just say thoughtlessly that Assad must leave," Peskov said. "If Damascus falls and terrorists take hold there, there will be no political settlement then." He said there is little hope that the Syrian conflict could end soon, adding that it will require a "long and hard work by the international community."
"The territory of Syria must be liberated," Peskov said. "It must be liberated and everything must be done to prevent the country's breakup, which could have catastrophic consequences for the entire region."
Peskov's statement comes as the break in the fighting Russia has declared in the besieged city of Aleppo entered its third day. He said Russia's decision to extend the break, which was initially declared for just one day Thursday, wasn't a concession to Western pressure.
The U.N. greeted the lull intended to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians and fighters from the rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo that had been devastated by airstrikes, but the rebels have rejected the offer to evacuate and no evacuations were seen along the corridors created by the Syrian government. A U.N. official told The Associated Press that Syrian opposition fighters were blocking the evacuations because the Syrian government and Russia were not holding up their end of the deal and were impeding deliveries of medical and humanitarian supplies into Aleppo.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the West was turning a blind eye to the al-Qaida militants blocking humanitarian aid deliveries to Aleppo and trying to shift the blame onto Moscow.
"It's mean and cynical to ... watch the Nusra block the delivery of food and medicines to civilians while blaming Russia for the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo," she said.
The Russian statement came as intense clashes were reported in northern Syria between Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters with Kurdish-led forces. The Syrian army command condemned the fresh offensive by Turkish troops inside Syria, describing it as "an occupation that will be dealt with by all available means." The Turkish military intervened in the Syrian war in August this year under orders from Ankara to clear the border area of Islamic State fighters and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces linked to Turkey's own outlawed Kurdish insurgency. The Turkish government considers both to be terrorist groups.
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Meanwhile, the Russian build up of military forces around Syria continues, and when asked if the deployment of a Russian aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean was intended as a warning for the U.S. against striking Assad's forces, Peskov said Russia already has sufficient military assets in Syria. The Admiral Kuznetsov carrier and escorting ships sailed through the English Channel Friday en route to Syria's shores.
Russia has a navy repair supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only such outpost the country has outside the former Soviet Union.
"There are plenty of instruments already there to control the skies and the security of our infrastructure in Syria," Peskov said.
Earlier this month, the Russian military warned the U.S. against striking the Syrian army, stressing that Russian air defense weapons in Syria stand ready to fend off any attack.
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Finally, let's not forget the final force involved in the Syria proxy war, namely Turkey, which has continued its military campaign in northern Syria under the pretext that it is eradicating ISIS when in reality it is merely seeking to further pressure the local Kurdish opposition. As AP notes, in northern Syria, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish tanks advanced under intense bombardment toward a major northern town held by Kurdish-led rebel forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been one of the Syrian rebels' strongest backers. On Thursday, Turkey said it conducted air raids on 18 targets in northern Syria, adding that between 160 and 200 militia fighters were killed. The Observatory said the airstrikes killed 15 SDF fighters and four civilians.
The Syrian army statement said "the new aggressive stance by Erdogan's regime is a dangerous escalation and flagrant violation" of Syria's sovereignty. It added that Erdogan's government has been playing a "dirty role in harboring, training, arming and funding terrorist groups and opening its borders to facilitate the crossing of thousands of terrorists and mercenaries into Syria's territories." Erdogan said Ankara will be expanding its operations in north Syria, including entering areas including al-Bab, and Raqqa that are held by the Islamic State group and the town of Manbij that is under the control of the SDF.
He added that if the U.S.-led coalition was ready to act jointly, Turkey would do "whatever is necessary" against IS in Raqqa, but Kurdish militants should not have a role.
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While it would be foolish to speculate how this unprecedented proxy war involving Assad's effectively failed state has any remotely peaceful resolution with so many foreign governments involved, it is likely safe to say that when the Russian naval deployment, "the biggest since the end of the Cold War", reaches the Syrian shores there will be another dramatic escalation in aggression, one set to take place just around the time America is set to pick its next president, who - if that president is Hillary - will guarantee even more military intervention. As Politico reported , the US foreign policy elite is calling for "more-aggressive American action to constrain Iran, rein in the chaos in the Middle East and check Russia in Europe.
If this is accurate, the probability of a world war under president Hillary Clinton has jumped by orders of magnitude. The studies, which reflect Clinton’s stated views and the direction she is likely to take if she is elected, break most forcefully with Obama on Syria. Virtually all these efforts, including a report that will be released Wednesday by the liberal Center for American Progress, call for stepped up military action to deter President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces in Syria."