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State Dept. could reconsider aid to Syrian rebel group after boy's beheading

By Ed Adamczyk

WASHINGTON, July 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department will reconsider its support of a Syrian rebel group if it's proven the group was responsible for beheading a 12-year-old boy, a spokesman said.

Members of a Syrian anti-government group which has received U.S. military aid are accused of beheading a child they suspected of helping a Palestinian, pro-Syrian government faction, the Liwa al-Quds. Videos surfaced online Tuesday of five fighters allegedly in the Nour al-Din al-Zinki movement accusing the boy of aiding the pro-government Liwa al-Quds organization.

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In one, a rebel says, "The Quds brigade has no men so they sent us children" as the boy is taunted. In another, one of the five men beheads the boy as the others cheer.

Mark Toner, U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson, said in a press briefing Tuesday the report of the boy's death was "appalling."

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"If we can prove that this was indeed what happened and [Nour al-Din al-Zinki] was involved in it, I think it would certainly give us pause ... I can't say what that consequence will be, but it will certainly give us, as I said, serious pause and we'll look at, frankly, any affiliation or cooperation with this group we may have going forward, if these allegations are proven true."

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Toner told reporters the Free Syrian Army has appointed a commission to investigate the boy's death and try to determine the accuracy of the allegations of who was involved.

A Liwa al-Quds statement said the boy, whom they identified as Abdullah Issa, was not a combatant and did not participate with Liwa al-Quds in recent clashes with rebel forces this week in Handarat, north of the city of Aleppo. The group said he was a child of a poor refugee family. It added the boy was receiving medical treatment, evidenced by the intravenous drip in his arm noticeable in the videos, and accused Nour al-Din al-Zinki of taking "cheap and despicable revenge" on the boy, a Palestinian, for losing the battles with Liwa al-Quds.

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The Nour al-Din al-Zinki movement said it denounced the incident, referring to the beheading as "individual errors that represent neither our typical practices nor our general policies."

"All individuals who undertook the violation have been detained and turned over to the [judicial] committee for investigations in accordance with the relevant legal standards."

An Amnesty International report, published earlier this month, details acts of torture and abductions allegedly committed by Nour al-Din al-Zinki fighters.

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The Nour al-Din al-Zinki group was a member of a coalition of moderate opposition forces that, until September 2015, received arms and financial support in their fight against the Syrian government from the United States. The coalition was involved in a logistics hub operated in part by the CIA. The Nour al-Din al-Zinki movement has also received support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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