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Seven paramedics shot dead in Syria

Gunmen have stormed an office belonging to a paramedic group in Syria, killing seven of its members and stealing two vehicles and other equipment.

The Syrian Civil Defence group, more commonly known as the White Helmets, said in a statement that the attack took place in the early hours of Saturday in the north western town of Sarmin.

No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attack but it comes amid increased tension in the area.

Sarmin is in Idlib province, which recently witnessed clashes between al Qaida-linked fighters and members of the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group. These resulted in al Qaida fighters capturing much of the region.

The al Qaida-linked Hay'at Tahrir al Sham - also known as the Levant Liberation Committee and HTS - said that during the past weeks its members had discovered Islamic State sleeper cells, who were planning attacks. The al Qaida affiliate, which was also known as Nusra Front, has fought deadly battles with Islamic State during the past years.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven members of the paramedic group were shot in the head, adding that the killings were discovered when volunteers from the Syrian Civil Defence arrived to start their shifts and found the bodies of their colleagues.

"Until now it is mostly likely a crime. It might also be an attack aimed to harm the image of Nusra Front and to show that Idlib is not safe," said Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Observatory.

An opposition activist based in Idlib said the attackers used pistols equipped with silencers.

The activist said Islamic State sleeper cells have been discovered in Sarmin. He added that it was most likely to be members of Islamic State who carried out the attack to show that Idlib is not safe.

The activist said the HTS-linked Judicial Committee is investigating the case.

Sarmin used to be a stronghold of the Jund al-Aqsa extremist group, which clashed with al Qaida last year before many of its members were allowed to head to areas controlled by Islamic State, for whom they now fight.

The Syrian paramedics have been known to risk their lives to save people from the civil war, which is now in its sixth year. The White Helmets group was nominated for last year's Nobel Peace Prize.

AP

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