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Thu 18 Dec 2014 12:19 PM

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Over 230 bodies found in mass grave in eastern Syria

Thought to be members of the Al Sheitaat tribe which had battled ISIL militants

Over 230 bodies found in mass grave in eastern Syria
GRAPHIC CONTENT (AFP/Getty Images)

More than 230 bodies of people believed killed by ISIL
militants have been found in a mass grave in Syria's eastern Deir Al Zor
province, activists said on Wednesday.

The bodies were thought to be members of the Al Sheitaat
tribe which had battled ISIL militants, the British-based Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights and activists monitoring the conflict said.

Their deaths would bring the number of Sheitaat
members said to have been killed by the ultra-hardline Islamist group to over
900.

Omar Abu Layla, a spokesman for the moderate rebel
umbrella Free Syrian Army group in Syria's east, said Sheitaat tribespeople had
discovered the mass grave as they returned to their homes. ISIL, occupying the
area, had given them permission to return.

"This is a message from Daesh that if there is
any attempt at revenge, your fate will be the same as your relatives," he
said, using a derogatory Arabic acronym for the ISIL group.

Pictures shared by Abu Layla and activists on
social media said to be of the mass grave showed decaying bodies and bones
covered in dust and dirt lying amid rocks and sand.

ISIL militants control all but a few pockets of
Deir Al Zor province, which borders territory also under its control in Iraq.

The province's oilfields have been a major source
of revenue for the group, but its operations have been under pressure since a US-led
coalition started launching air strikes against it in Syria in September.

In August, activists said the militant group had
killed some 700 members of the Sheitaat tribe, the majority of them civilians,
over the preceding two weeks after conflict flared when the militants took over
two oilfields.

The people in the newly-discovered mass grave are
believed to have been killed around the same time, activists said.

The Observatory, which has tracked violence on all
sides of the nearly four-year-old conflict, said many of the Sheitaat victims
had been beheaded.

The tribe is from Deir Al Zor province and numbers
about 70,000.

ISIL fighters are currently battling Syrian
President Bashar Al Assad's forces near Deir Al Zor city for a military air
base that is one of the government's last strongholds in the country's east.