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Syrian activist group says nearly 300 kidnapped in Syria in retaliation for bus abduction

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This citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows anti-Syrian regime protesters holding a caricature placard during a demonstration, at Kafr Nabil town, in Idlib province, northern Syria, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. Heavy fighting for control of the international airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and a major military air base nearby has killed some 150 rebels and government soldiers over the past two days, activists said Friday. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN) (The Associated Press)

An activist group says pro-government gunmen have kidnapped more than 300 people in northwestern Syria in retaliation for the abduction of 42 Shiite Muslims this week.

The Britain-based Syrian says the tit-for-tat kidnappings in predominantly Sunni Muslim Idlib province could trigger sectarian clashes in the area.

The Observatory said the 42 Shiites, mainly women and children, were snatched Thursday from a bus that was traveling from the Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya to the capital Damascus.

Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said Saturday it was not clear who kidnapped the Shiites.

The U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, called for the release of the women.

She said "allegations of abduction and rape of women and girls by armed groups have been received."