Syrian children play outside their makeshift houses at the refugee camp of Qah along the Turkish border in the village of Atme in the northwestern province of Idlib, on March 17, 2013
Syrian children play outside their makeshift houses at the refugee camp of Qah along the Turkish border in the village of Atme in the northwestern province of Idlib, on March 17, 2013. © Bulent Kilic - AFP/File
Syrian children play outside their makeshift houses at the refugee camp of Qah along the Turkish border in the village of Atme in the northwestern province of Idlib, on March 17, 2013
AFP
Last updated: November 22, 2013

Jihadists cut down 150-year-old oak in Syria

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Jihadists cut down a 150-year-old oak tree in Atme, on Syria's border with Turkey, after they accused locals of worshipping it, a pro-jihadist source said.

"Thank God almighty, the tree... aged more than 150 years has been removed, after people were worshipping it instead of God," said the source on Thursday via his Twitter account named "our call is our jihad".

He also posted pictures of a man in a black mask using an electric saw to cut down the tree. A black Al-Qaeda-style flag bearing the Islamic profession of faith had been planted on top of the tree.

The jihadist sympathiser used the hashtag used by supporters of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the tree had been cut down, adding that it stood next to an ancient shrine in Atme.

After jihadists took over the shrine and prevented people from going to pray there, prayers were held by the tree instead.

The reports came hours after ISIL took over the town of Atme in northwestern Syria's Idlib on Thursday, according to the Observatory and a local rebel source.

ISIL "have taken over Atme... They have set up checkpoints across the town," said Abu Leila, a rebel from Idlib who was angered by the capture.

He saw it as a strategic loss for mainstream opposition fighters, many of who have been at loggerheads with the jihadists.

"Atme was oxygen for the (rebel) Free Syrian Army" fighting to topple Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, he told AFP.

The rebels had been using Atme "as an entry point for everything from weapons to food, and as an exit point for the wounded" into Turkey's hospitals, said Abu Leila.

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