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AP: Amateur video shows man hanged in Syria

A Free Syrian Army fighter runs for cover during fighting against government troops in Idlib, north Syria, Saturday, March 10, 2012.
AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

(CBS/AP) ANTAKYA, Turkey - A pro-regime militiaman in Syria was hanged from a tree in the northern province of Idlib as masked rebels cheered his gruesome death, according to an amateur video that shows how brutal the uprising has become after a year of violent conflict.

The unidentified man was a member of the shabiha, a term used to describe pro-government thugs, and he was accused of shooting civilians and spying for President Bashar Assad's regime, according to the person who shot the video in mid-February. He asked that his name not be published out of fear for his safety.

The video was obtained by an Associated Press journalist recently on assignment in Idlib, and it was transmitted Tuesday.

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The Syrian army has recaptured most of Idlib,the northern rebel stronghold near the Turkish border, pushing hundreds of military defectors out of a major base they had held for months even as pockets of resistance kept up their fight on Tuesday.

The three-day operation to capture the city followed closely after a similar offensive in the Baba Amr district in central Homs.

The location and the course of events that led to the scene cannot be independently verified. But the voice on the footage said the man was killed by fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army after they arrested him for attacking a funeral.

"He threw grenades at the mourners," the voice-over says. "The Free Syrian Army intervened and arrested this criminal shabiha belonging to Assad's gangs. He was carrying grenades and Russian ammunition and fired on the protesters and the mourners."

The execution happened as Syrian troops moved into the region in preparation for an offensive to wipe out the rebel Free Syrian Army in Idlib. Late last week, army tanks backed up by infantry and shabiha moved into the rebel stronghold. By Tuesday, activists reported that the city had fallen to the government.

The Free Syrian Army is the largest armed opposition force, made up of army defectors and protesters who have taken up weapons. But its structure is very loose and the group is outgunned by regime forces.

According to an AP team that spent three weeks in Idlib, most of the rebels there carried machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. Others fought back by placing roadside bombs to target army tanks.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been discussing military aid to the Syrian rebels. But the U.S. and others have not advocated arming the oppositions, partly out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged conflict.

Syria has a complex web of allegiances in the region that extend to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, raising fears of wider violence.