First Published: 2017-05-18

IS kills more than 50 in central Syria attack
IS attack on regime-held villages of Aqareb and Al-Mabujeh kill at least 15 civilians, 27 pro-government fighters.
Middle East Online

Control of central Hama province is divided between Syria's government, rebel forces and IS

DAMASCUS - The Islamic State group killed more than 50 people in an attack on two government-held villages in central Syria's Hama province on Thursday, a monitor said.

The jihadists executed some of those killed in the assault, which comes as IS loses territory elsewhere in Syria and in neighbouring Iraq.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack on the villages of Aqareb and Al-Mabujeh killed at least 15 civilians and 27 pro-government fighters.

It said another 10 bodies were yet to be identified as government fighters or local residents.

IS also lost 15 fighters in the dawn attack on the two villages in the east of the province, the monitor said.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said at least three of the civilians were killed execution style with knives, a man and his two children.

It was unclear if others had also been killed the same way or died in fighting.

Syria's state news agency also reported 52 people had been killed in the IS assault, though it described the attack as against Aqareb only.

It said IS fighters had mutilated the bodies of villagers and looted their homes, and said that 15 of the dead were children.

- Fighting spreading -

The Observatory said IS had seized control of Aqareb and part of Al-Mabujeh in the attack, which began with heavy shelling on a nearby regime checkpoint.

"Despite the arrival of reinforcements, government forces have been unable to repel the attack so far," Abdel Rahman said.

He said the fighting was continuing and had spread to the outskirts of nearby villages.

IS has attacked Al-Mabujeh before with devastating effect.

In March 2015, it executed at least 37 civilians in the village, whose population includes Sunni Muslims as well as those from the Ismaili sect and the Alawite community to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

During the same assault the group kidnapped at least 50 civilians, half of them women.

Control of central Hama province is divided between Syria's government, rebel forces and IS, which is present mostly in the east of the area.

The attack comes as IS faces pressure in the north of the country, where an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters is preparing an assault on its bastion Raqa city.

The jihadist group has also lost most of the Iraqi second city of Mosul, which it captured in 2014.

The battle for Raqa has stirred tensions with neighbouring Turkey, which is fiercely opposed to the Kurdish fighters now leading the operation to capture the city.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for the removal of US diplomat Brett McGurk, who coordinates the US-led coalition against IS, saying he was supporting the Kurdish fighters.

"It would be useful if this person was replaced," Cavusoglu said.

- UN-sponsored talks continue -

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government demonstrations in 2011.

The conflict has proved stubbornly resistant to international efforts to find a political solution, but a new round of UN-sponsored talks are underway this week in Geneva.

The UN-sponsored process has been somewhat overshadowed by a parallel track convened in Kazakh capital Astana by regime supporters Russia and Iran along with rebel backer Turkey.

The three nations agreed earlier this month to establish four "de-escalation zones" in Syria, and are now hammering out the details of the plan.

In the meanwhile, Syrian government and opposition delegations in Geneva agreed Thursday to informal discussions on constitutional issues.

A new constitution is one of four separate "baskets" on the agenda at the talks, along with governance, elections and combating "terrorism".

Government lead negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari said none of the topics had yet been discussed, three days into the meeting.

And he played down the plan to discuss constitutional issues.

"The work of these experts will have nothing to do with the constitution... They will not take decisions," he said.

 

Iran's Ahmadinejad calls for immediate free elections

Russia pours cold water on UN bid to condemn Iran over missiles to Yemen

Saudi Arabia to boost entertainment in next decade

Merkel calls for end to 'massacre' in Syria

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Russia says Syria rebels rejected offer to evacuate E. Ghouta

UN diplomats press for Syria ceasefire without Russia veto

Iranian minister’s presence at UN rights meeting angers critics

Iran warns it will leave nuke deal if banks cannot do business

Qatar to plant thousands of trees to ‘beautify’ World Cup venues

Pro-Kurdish party says Turkey lying about 'no civilian deaths' in Afrin

African migrants protest Israeli detention policy

Egypt sentences 21 to death for planning attacks

Israeli handball teams in Qatar spark furious outcry from locals

UN report highlights S.Sudan journalist treatment

Palestinian dies after being shot by Israeli soldiers

Gulf states urge Syria to end Ghouta violence

Wanted Bahraini militants die at sea en route to Iran

Iraq urges FIFA to lift ban on hosting internationals

Carnage of Ghouta's bombs breaking families

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea

African migrants start hunger strike over Israel expulsion

UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Eastern Ghouta violence

Three militiamen killed in Libya car bomb attack

Russia denies ‘groundless’ accusations of role in Ghouta killings

Turkey says whoever helps YPG is 'legitimate target'

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terrorist cell

Turkey urged to end gas standoff with Cyprus

PKK attack near Iraq kills 2 Turkish soldiers

Netanyahu confidant to testify against him

Iran emergency teams recover bodies from plane crash site

Ten dead in more Syrian regime strikes on East Ghouta

Bahrain activist sentenced to 5 years for Yemen tweets

Lebanese president makes landmark visit to Iraq

US declares readiness to talk Mideast peace

Bloodbath in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Abbas calls for peace conference in rare UN speech

Egyptian court adds leading government critic on terror list

Yemen government offensive threatens heritage site

Turkey considering chemical castration for child abusers

45 civilians killed in air strikes on rebel enclave

Cairo sheds Ottoman-era street names amid Egypt-Turkey crisis

New woes for Israeli PM in fresh graft cases

Maghreb countries wary about jihadists relocating from Iraq, Syria

Erdogan says Turkey will besiege Afrin "swiftly"