Assad forces target Islamic State

At least 31 Islamists killed by Syrian regime strikes in northern Syria.
An Islamic State fighter keeps guard as people, who according to him are employees of the Islamic State hired to monitor and check the quality of goods in markets, throw confiscated products on the ground in central Raqqa on August 14. Reuters
An Islamic State fighter keeps guard as people, who according to him are employees of the Islamic State hired to monitor and check the quality of goods in markets, throw confiscated products on the ground in central Raqqa on August 14. Reuters

The National staff

BEIRUT // The Assad regime increased pressure on the Islamic State on Sunday, pounding the group’s Syrian headquarters and other towns with airstrikes and killing at least 31 fighters.

Raqqa city, the militants base of operations in Syria’s north, and other Islamic State controlled towns were hit by dozen of airstrikes, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

“The regime carried out 13 raids on the city of Raqqa and 11 on the town of Tabqa in Raqqa province, killing at least 31 jihadists and wounding dozens of them,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.

For more than a year, president Bashar Al Assad’s air force rarely targeted territory controlled by the Islamic State in northern Syria, instead focusing on moderate rebel groups.

But regime jets have begun hitting the extremists more regularly since the militants overran much of neighbouring northern and western Iraq in June.

There has been widespread speculation that the Assad regime is choosing to target the militants now in an attempt to portray itself as partner for the West in its fight against terror.

Observatory directory Rami Abdurrahman said six of those raids targeted a military court.

He said the raids were the regime’s “most intensive” against the Islamic State since the militants joined the more than three-year-old conflict in Syria in 2003.

Islamic State militants had on Saturday killed more than 700 tribal members in eastern Syria and were battling to seize a northern rebel bastion, sparking an appeal for an Iraq-style Western intervention.

The Observatory said the Islamic State have carried out the killings over the past two weeks in Deir Ezzor province, which the group mostly controls.

Among the members of the Shaitat tribe killed were 100 fighters, but the rest were civilians.

They were killed in Ghranij, Abu Hamam and Kashkiyeh villages.

Mr Rahman said the fate of 1,800 other members of the Sunni tribe was unknown.

Fighting between the militants and the tribe erupted after a deal between them collapsed, with the Shaitat refusing to bow to Islamic State authority.

The Islamic State has captured most of Deir Ezzor and declared it to be part of its “caliphate”.

The Observatory said the Shaitat had vowed not to oppose the Islamic State, in exchange for the militants not harassing or attacking its members.

But the Islamic State had detained three members of the tribe for “violating” the agreement.

Gains by the extremist group has jeopardised the moderate rebels’ position in Aleppo province, as well as the city of Aleppo itself, where opposition fighters are also under assault by government troops.

With the rebels’ control over half of Aleppo looking increasingly precarious, the main Western-backed opposition group called on Saturday for US airstrikes against the Islamic State to help the mainstream rebels.

The Syrian National Coalition has long appealed for more robust military support from the West to help in its fight to remove Mr Al Assad, and more recently to counter the rise of Islamic extremists.

The group’s latest appeal appeared aimed at capitalising on the recent US aerial intervention in Iraq, where American military aircraft have targeted the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, Kurdish militants from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) have trained hundreds of Yazidi volunteers at several camps inside Syria to fight Islamic State forces in Iraq, a member of an armed Kurdish group said on Sunday.

“The Yazidi civilians want to stay in Syria because it is safer but the volunteers really want to go back to Iraq to fight.”

The Islamic State has forced hundreds of thousands of Yazidis to flee for their lives and threatened Kurds.

In Syria, the Yazidi volunteers train in weapon use and fighting tactics for several days before being sent back to Iraq to fight, said a Kurdish fighter.

“There are several training camps for Yazidi men who have volunteered,” Anas Hani said from eastern Syria. “In the past ten days, hundreds have graduated. And we are training more.”

“On the top of the Singar mountains, in cooperation with locals and the YPG, the Yazidis have established what they call the Singar Resistance Units,” he said.

Thousands of Yazidis are believed to be sheltering on Iraq’s Mount Singar, having fled there after the Islamic State onslaught.

Iraqi Kurdish officials have sought to play down the role of the YPG in Iraq and spotlight the actions of their own peshmerga forces, who are already being supplied weapons by the US.

The YPG are one of the few militant groups that have been able to stem the advance of the Islamic State.

* With reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and Reuters

Published: August 17, 2014 04:00 AM

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