DAMASCUS: A barrage of mortar bombs hit government-held areas of the northern city of Idlib Monday, killing 14 people and wounding at least 40, Syrian state media said.
Idlib has been under the control of President Bashar Assad’s troops since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, while rebels control the areas around the city. They have been besieging the city for more than two years, firing mortar bombs into the government-held areas and clashing with Assad’s troops at its outskirts.
The state-run SANA news agency said mortars shells fell on several parts of Idlib, including a residential area and a market. State TV said children were among those who died in the attacks, and at least 40 people were wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
State TV blamed “terrorists” for the attacks, a term the Syrian government uses for rebels trying to overthrow Assad’s government.
In the east, activists reported heavy clashes between several Syrian rebel factions and the al-Qaeda breakaway group ISIS fighting for control of a border crossing with Iraq.
The fighting in the town of Al-Bukamal, on the border between Syria and Iraq, between rebel groups and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria continued as both sides reportedly brought in reinforcements in recent days.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group, said the infighting was concentrated in the town and the nearby border crossing as different factions sought control of the frontier.
Last week, a faction of the Al-Qaeda group the Nusra Front, defected and joined ISIS in Al-Bukamal, sparking a reaction by militants who objected to the move.
Further west on the Euphrates River in the town of Raqqa, the stronghold of ISIS, activists said the jihadists have locked down the city and are shipping in new weapons, including missiles from Iraq.
“All roads leading in and out of Raqqa city have been closed. Nobody can enter or leave Raqqa at all right now,” said Hadi Salameh, speaking to AFP via the Internet. “They also brought in surface-to-surface missiles,” said the activist, using a pseudonym to protect his identity.
An image sent to AFP by the activist showed a large missile mounted on the back of a military vehicle in the north Syrian city.
The Observatory also reported the influx of arms.
Its director Rami Abdel-Rahman said: “[ISIS] is bringing in heavy weapons from Iraq to Raqqa every day. The group has all the trappings of a state except an air force.”
Another activist in Raqqa, Abu Ibrahim, posted pictures on Facebook showing missiles, and claimed the group was parading heavy machineguns as well as tanks, armored vehicles, U.S.-made Humvees and artillery cannons.
Monday, the second day of the fasting month of Ramadan, the group “detained three young men, accusing them of not observing the fast,” the Observatory said.
Up to 7,000 people, the majority of them militants, have been killed in clashes between ISIS and an array of rebel groups since January according to the Observatory’s tally.