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 on Thursday (local time) from a bus that was travelling 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 UN 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".