BEIRUT: Two weeks of clashes between Al-Qaeda-inspired militants and a collection of rebel groups have killed over 1,000 people, a monitoring group said Thursday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 1,069 people had been killed in the clashes, the overwhelming majority being fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and moderate and Islamist rebel groups.
A total of 130 civilians were among the dead, including 21 who were summarily executed by ISIS militants.
The clashes began on Jan. 3, when rebel groups attacked ISIS militants after months of objectionable actions by the Al-Qaeda militants, who have been accused of killing and kidnapping rebel fighters and enforcing ultra-conservative Islamic behavior on civilian populations.
The Observatory said ISIS fighters and various rebel militias engaged in fierce clashes Thursday in the Idlib town of Saraqeb and nearby villages, as well as in Aleppo province. Advances were reported by the rebels in the villages of Ajel and Urum al-Kubra, as they also mounted an attempt to retake the town of Azaz, near the Turkish border.
A car bomb killed at least one person near Urum al-Kubra, the Observatory said.
Clashes between the two sides also took place in the Aleppo towns of Hreitan and Anadan.
Also in Idlib province, regime troops were countering rebel assaults in the region of Wadi Deif, the site of a key military base.
Fighting between rebels and government troops also raged, and the Observatory said a rebel ambush in the Sheikh Said area of Aleppo killed or wounded 20 soldiers.
Elsewhere, fierce clashes were reported between government troops and rebel groups south of the city of Deir al-Zor, killing at least two rebel fighters, the Observatory said.
It said that ISIS released four rebel leaders in the eastern part of the province after several days’ captivity. They were headed to the city of Raqqa, which is controlled by ISIS, when they were seized, the Observatory said.
Regime troops and rebel units also squared off in various areas around the capital, and the Observatory said that regime helicopters dropped a crude “barrel bomb” on the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus, killing at least five people.
Yarmouk has been under a monthslong blockade by regime troops as negotiations continue over the entry of relief assistance for the local population.
Barrel bombs dropped by helicopter were also reported in the rural Damascus towns of Khan al-Shih, Zabadani and Daraya, while rebels claimed to have shot down a helicopter over Daraya.
The death toll for Wednesday, the Observatory said, stood at 174 people nationwide, 148 of whom were fighters from the regime, rebel groups and the jihadists.
Separately, a relief official said the government allowed food supplies to enter two besieged areas under rebel control near Damascus.
Khaled Iriqsousi, who heads the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, said that enough supplies to feed 10,000 people for a month had entered the suburbs of al-Ghazlanieh and Jdeidet al-Shibani.
Syria’s government and the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, agreed to allow humanitarian aid into some blocked-off areas earlier this week.
The agreement was announced in Paris by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who have been preparing for next week’s “Geneva II” peace conference.
For its part, Amnesty International said Geneva II should be aimed at ending the government’s blockades on rebel-held towns where people are starving to death.
In a statement, the organization said that government and opposition groups should commit to granting “unfettered access to humanitarian organizations operating throughout Syria” during the U.N.-sponsored talks, which are scheduled to begin on Jan. 22 in Montreux, Switzerland.
“Heartbreaking images from besieged Syrian towns showing emaciated children and skeletal figures with yellowing skin have emerged in recent days ... We are urging all states involved in the Geneva II talks, the United Nations, the Syrian government and the Syrian [opposition] National Coalition to make alleviating the suffering of people in Syria a top priority,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.
Amnesty said the government had obstructed the delivery of vital aid to civilians in the Damascus area and especially in the Yarmouk camp, where nearly 50 people are reported to have died since July due to the blockade.
“The Syrian government is cruelly punishing civilians living in opposition-held areas. Starving civilians as a method of warfare is a war crime. The blockades must be lifted immediately and access to humanitarian aid must never be used to score military or political gains,” Luther said.