Beirut — The Islamic State group killed more than 160 Syrian government troops seized in recent fighting, posting pictures of terrified young conscripts stripped down to their underwear before meeting their deaths in the arid Syrian countryside.

The images of the slayings that emerged Thursday were the latest massacre attributed to the extremist group, which has terrorized rivals and civilians alike with widely publicized brutality in Syria and Iraq as it seeks to expand a proto-state it has carved out on both sides of the border.

In southern Syria meanwhile, an armed group detained 43 United Nations peacekeepers near the crossing into the Israeli-held Golan Heights in the force’s latest entanglement in the Syrian violence.

Most of the dozens killed over the past 24 hours were rounded up Wednesday near the Tabqa air base, three days after Islamic State fighters seized the base. The government troops were among a large group of soldiers from the base who were stuck behind front lines after the airfield fell to the jihadi fighters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 120 captive government troops from Tabqa were killed near the base. Islamic State fighters also killed at least another 40 soldiers, most of whom were taken prisoner infighting at other bases in the Hamrat region near Raqqa city, the group’s stronghold.

A top U.N. aid official says the Islamic State group is taking violence against civilians in Syria “to a new level” and is threatening the cross-border humanitarian aid operations recently approved by the Security Council.

The U.N.’s deputy humanitarian chief, Kyung-wha Kang, told the council on Thursday that both the extremists and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front are advancing on the border crossings with Turkey of Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa “and could hinder additional cross-border operations.”

The threat comes as U.N. humanitarian officials reported the first bit of improvement on getting aid to hard-to-reach people inside Syria, where more than 190,000 people have been killed in the conflict and almost one in two Syrians is either internally displaced or a refugee. Kang says the death toll is likely “much higher.”

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government, which has been tight-lipped on the massive death toll incurred by its soldiers at the hands of Islamic State fighters in the past two months.

President Barack Obama played down the prospect of imminent U.S. military action in Syria on Thursday, saying “we don’t have a strategy yet.” He said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to “stop being ambivalent” about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State.

“They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” Obama said, alluding to the group’s announcement last week that it had killed American journalist James Foley. The militants also have threatened to kill other U.S. hostages.

Bloomberg News contributed


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