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Islamic State attacks Syrian state-held areas, 52 killed

More than two dozen women and children were killed of which some were beheaded.

world Updated: May 18, 2017 21:24 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press
Associated Press, Beirut
Syria,Hama,Islamic State
10 bodies are yet to be identified as government fighters or local residents in Hama Province of Syria.(REUTERS /REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE)

The Islamic State group attacked several government-held villages in central Syria on Thursday, capturing at least one of them that left 52 people dead including more than two dozen women and children, some of whom were beheaded, as well as Syrian troops, state media, medical officials and an opposition monitoring group said.

The attack in the central Hama province targeted villages where most residents belong to the Ismaili branch of Shia Islam, raising fears that the extremists might massacre them, as they have in other minority communities in Syria and Iraq.

The villages are located near the town of Salamiyeh and the highway that links the capital, Damascus, to the northern city of Aleppo, but state media said traffic was not affected.

The attacks come as government forces are on the offensive against the extremists in other parts of Syria, mostly in the northern province of Aleppo, the central Homs region and to the east. US - backed and Kurdish-led forces meanwhile, are marching toward the extremists’ de-facto capital of Raqqa, in northern Syria.

State news agency SANA said that militants were able to storm homes in the southern part of the Aqareb al-Safi village, adding that the government forces repelled them, pushing them back towards the desert.

The head of the National Hospital in Salamiyeh, Dr. Noufal Safar, said that the hospital received 52 bodies, including 11 women and 17 children. He also mentioned that some of them were beheaded while the others had their limbs amputated.

“They were brought with all forms of deformations but most of them appear to have died as a result of gunfire,” Safar told The Associated Press by telephone. He added that most of the dead and wounded were brought by ambulances.

Safar quoted some of the wounded people as saying that the extremists began storming homes and beheading women inside.

Rami Razzouk, a coroner at the hospital who inspected the bodies, said that the children brought in were mostly dismembered, while most of the men died from shelling or heavy machine gun fire.

He said that at least nine children were beaten with heavy objects such as bricks or stones on their heads or necks. Razzouk said that there were “a couple of children whose heads were fully dismembered because of the beating.”

Two of the children “had most of their limbs removed and had to be carried in blankets” and two men were shot in the eye, he said. He said 120 people were wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that 52 people were killed in the fighting, with the dead including 15 civilians, 27 Syrian soldiers and 10 unidentified people. SANA said that 40 people were wounded.

The IS - linked Aamaq news agency said that the group captured Aqareb al-Safi and Mabouja. It identified residents as members of President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shia Islam. The Sunni extremists view Shias as apostates deserving of death. IS has massacred thousands of Shias and other opponents in Syria and Iraq, often boasting about the killings and circulating photos and videos of them online.

Aamaq claimed that 100 Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen were killed in the fighting.

“Dozens of people are missing but it is not clear if they were kidnapped by Daesh,” said the Observatory’s chief Rami Abdurrahman, using an Arabic acronym to refer to the group. He said that the IS deployed snipers on roofs of some buildings in Aqareb al-Safi.

State TV said that wo people were wounded in the IS shelling in Salamiyeh.

SANA also reported on Thursday that Assad met with Iraq’s national security adviser Faleh al-Fayad to discuss steps to improve coordination between their countries’ militaries in the anti-terrorism campaign along their shared border.

First Published: May 18, 2017 20:09 IST