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Published: Saturday December 14, 2013 MYT 2:15:02 AM
Updated: Saturday December 14, 2013 MYT 2:16:05 AM

Qaeda rebels seize 120 Syrian Kurds near Turkish border - watchdog

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Islamist rebels linked to al Qaeda kidnapped at least 120 Kurdish civilians on Friday from a village near the Turkish border in Aleppo province, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters entered Ihras, 20 km (12 miles) south of the border town of Azaz, and took the captives, including at least six women, to an unknown location.

The British-based Observatory, which has a network of sources across Syria, cited Arab and Kurdish sources in and around Ihras. Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

The incident is the latest in a series of kidnappings and killings by ISIL this month targeting Kurds in northern Syria, where mainly Sunni Arab Islamist rebels and Kurdish fighters have clashed repeatedly in recent months.

Control over Syria's northeast, where Kurds predominate, has swung back and forth between them and Islamists, who strongly oppose what they suspect are Kurdish plans to secede.

The Observatory said ISIL had kidnapped 51 Kurdish civilians from the towns of Manbij and Jarablus northeast of Aleppo since the start of December, including eight women and two children.

ISIL has also evicted 15 Kurdish families linked to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from their homes in Idlib province, according to the Observatory.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Friday that both rebels and government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had stepped up abductions recently.

"In just the past few months, we have seen a significant and deeply alarming rise in abductions of human rights defenders, activists, journalists, religious figures and others by armed opposition groups, as well as the continuing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of individuals by government forces," Pillay said.

Syrian Kurds number over two million of a total of more than 25 million Kurds in Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Kurds are often described as the world's largest ethnic group without a state.

Oppressed under President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him, Syrian Kurds view the civil war as an opportunity to gain more autonomy - much as their ethnic kin in neighbouring Iraq have consolidated self-rule during turmoil there.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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