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Austria convicts asylum seeker of Syria war crimes

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image copyrightReuters
image captionThe suspect is said to have claimed responsibility for 20 deaths in Homs

An asylum seeker has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Austria after being found guilty of killing 20 people in Syria.

The 27-year-old man was accused of shooting unarmed or wounded soldiers following a battle in the city of Homs.

The man, who has not been named, had denied the charges. He was arrested in western Austria in June.

It is thought to be the first time that a case involving war crimes in Syria has been tried in Austria.

The sentence was handed down by a court in Innsbruck, the Austria Press Agency reports.

Previous reports in local media said the man had told others at a refugee shelter that he had shot dead government soldiers when he was fighting with an Islamist rebel group called the Farouq Brigade, linked to the Free Syrian Army.

But his lawyers said his account of events was mistranslated and that he was expected to appeal against his conviction.

According to Der Standard, he is a stateless Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp in Homs.

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The suspect was placed under investigation when officials were alerted to his account of events in Syria last year.

Austria is unable to extradite the man to face charges in Syria because of the ongoing civil war there.

Killing injured soldiers is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war.

Officials had previously said the actions that he had allegedly described qualified as terrorism and could be prosecuted under international counter-terrorism agreements.

Geneva Conventions:

The Geneva Conventions are founded on just a few basic principles:

Medical staff and hospitals in warzones must be protected and allowed to work freely.

Those wounded in battle and no longer fighting are entitled to medical treatment.

Prisoners of war must be treated humanely.

Warring parties are obliged to protect civilians (this includes a prohibition on the targeting of civilian infrastructure such as power and water supplies).

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