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Islamic State group take fight to Damascus suburb

Kurdish fighters are battling IS forces close to Kirkuk [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 31 August, 2015

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Syrian rebel fighters thwarted an IS assault on a Damascus suburb on Monday, after fierce street battles left a number of extremist militants dead.

Islamic State group fighters fought Syrian rebels in a neighbourhood of the capital, Damascus, on Monday, bringing the group closer to Syria's central seat of power.

IS militants enaged in street battles with rebel fighters in Asali, part of the capital's southern Qadam district, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

IS fighters captured two streets in Asali over the weekend, after advancing from the adjacent al-Hajar al-Aswad neighbourhood, where they have been based since July 2014.

"This is the closest IS has ever been to the heart of Damascus," said Observatory head, Rami Abdel Rahman.

Opposition-held Qadam has enjoyed relative quiet since a truce between rebel groups and regime forces was agreed, one year ago.

Fighting on Sunday left 15 fighters dead, but it still wasn't clear which group the militants belonged to.

Abdel Rahman said the "fierce street battles" had forced civilians to flee the area.

Since its expulsion from the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus last year, IS has used al-Hajar al-Aswad as a base for attacks on the capital.

A Syrian military official confirmed the clashes had taken place.

"[I am] very happy that they are fighting. But we are ready to react if they try to advance into government-held territory," the official told AFP.

     [We are] very happy that [IS and rebels] are fighting. But we are ready to react if they try to advance into government-held territory.
- Syrian military official



The extremist group also launched an unsuccessful assault on the rebel-held Palestinian camp, Yarmouk, in Damascus in April 2015, but were dislodged by rebel brigades, including al-Qaeda group, al-Nusra Front.

Rutbah

Around 200 Iraqi civilians are being held at a unknown location by the Islamic State group - feared dead - following a rare rebellion against the extremist organisation in a remote Iraqi town.

Protests began in Rutbah, in Anbar province close to the Jordanian border, on Saturday after IS militants killed a local resident for the murder of a member of the extremist group.

Reports suggest that this was part of a long-running clan blood feud.

Uprising

Hundreds of residents demonstrated on Saturday against IS' killing of the local resident. Clashes broke out when militants attempted to disperse the protesters.

A provincial Anbar official said Saturday some 70 residents were detained by the militants and more than 100 more were tied to streetlight poles for about 24 hours as a punishment.

Rutbah's mayor, Imad al-Rishawy, said that around 200 residents are still held by IS at an unknown location and that the town is gripped by fears they might be killed.

Demonstrations against IS in areas under its control have been rare, since the group seized much of northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014.

IS routinely hands out severe punishments like beheadings, burning offenders to death, amputations, flogging or placing offenders in cages placed at public squares.

It has worked in spreading absolute terror in territories it controls, ensuring that any resistance is dealt with quickly, mercilessly and with utmost cruelty.

Campaign of terror

The media reported on Monday that the extremists have released a video purportedly showing the gruesome burning to death of four pro-government militia fighters in Iraq.

Mass murder in Syria

While the group's operatives were engaged in their campaign of terror in Iraq,  in neighbouring Syria, its fighters killed 91 people in areas under their control between 29 July and 29 August of this year alone, the Syrian Observatory reported.

Most of those murdered were Syrian army or rebel fighters, although 32 civilians were killed by the group - which is usually done by beheading - including two women and a journalist.

Many of the women who have been murdered by the group have been for "sorcery".

IS controls over half of Syria and much of northern and western Iraq.

The group is at war with the Iraqi and Syrian government armies and militias, Syrian rebels, Kurdish militants and an international US-Arab-European coalition, which is bombing its territories from the air.

IS have inflicted barbaric forms of "execution" on soldiers and militants it captures, sharing videos of the killingson social media to spread terror in the enemy camp.

This has helped it rout much larger enemy forces on the battlefield, usually when officers flee for their lives leaving soldiers behing to face their fate.

Palmyra temple destroyed

Part of IS' propaganda campaign has been directed to shock the world through the destruction of important archaeological sites.

On Sunday, IS reportedly blew up part of another historic temple in the ancient caravan city of Palmyra, in Syria.

The Observatory said that IS militants blew up part of the Temple of Bel, considered to be Palmyra's most important temple.


Mohammed Hassan al-Homsi - the pseudonym for an activist from Pamyra - reported the partial destruction of the temple on Sunday night, at the Greco-Roman site.

"They laid the explosives today, using booby trapped boxes and barrels that were already prepared by IS," he said.

"This was the most important temple for tourists and for the people of Palmyra," he continued.

On 24 August, IS militants released images of them completely destroying Palmyra's Baal Shamin temple.

Eastern Syria

The British-based monitoring group reported that IS has informed residents of four villages in Deir Ezzour, eastern Syria, to abandon their homes in the next forty hours.

Residents were told that they were being expelled and IS as the villages were considered to be part of a "military zone".

Clashes continued in the province's airport between regime soldiers and the extremist group over the past few days, one of the last areas that Damascus controls in eastern Syria.

IS has also sent reinforcements to Hassakeh province, northeast Syria, the Observatory reported, where regime fighters and IS are engaged in a bloody and protracted conflict for control of province's capital, Hassakeh.

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