BEIRUT: Militants from ISIS have given rebel fighters in the city of Deir al-Zor one week to “repent” and turn in their weapons, after recent seizures of territory around the provincial capital on the Euphrates River.
An ISIS statement, circulated widely on social media, said that anyone failing to heed the ultimatum would be considered “hostile” to the group, without spelling out the consequences. The statement instructed those wishing to surrender to bring with them two photographs and a copy of their I.D. papers, “to avoid being attacked by the soldiers of ISIS.”
The Al-Qaeda splinter group, whose leader declared a “caliphate” in areas it controls in Iraq and Syria, has for months fought against an array of Islamist and mainstream rebel groups in Deir al-Zor and in rural parts of the province.
In the town of Shheil, a former stronghold of its arch-rival the Nusra Front, residents began returning to their homes after the town’s leaders negotiated an agreement with ISIS, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based anti-regime group.
Under the agreement, residents agreed to hand over all their weapons and pledged to not attack ISIS fighters in the town, which was seized at the beginning of the month.
Shheil is also the hometown of Abu Mohammad al-Golani, the leader of the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
Anti-regime activists posted photos purporting to show the residents as they began to return to the town, which had an estimated population of 30,000 prior to the recent clashes.
In rural Aleppo province, ISIS continued to clash with the Kurdish YPG militia, in fighting that killed an undetermined number of ISIS militants, the Observatory said. The only setbacks for ISIS in its clashes against rebel militias and the YPG on several fronts throughout Syria came in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, where pro-opposition sources said ISIS militants were failing to score any gains against the Islam Army, a leading Islamist militia.
In rural Hama, rebels led by the Nusra Front attacked the defense minister’s home village, capturing parts of it after killing at least 18 soldiers and pro-government gunmen, activists said.
The assault began with a suicide bombing against an army checkpoint in government-controlled Rahjan. The Observatory said rebels then stormed into the village, killing the soldiers and pro-government gunmen and gaining control of several areas.
An activist in Hama who goes by the name of Muhannad al-Mohammad confirmed that rebels, including members of the Nusra Front, broke into the village and captured large parts of it.
But there were conflicting reports on how much of the village the rebels had seized. Rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad control large parts of Hama province, while the government controls the provincial capital and other areas.
Defense Minister Gen. Fahd Jassem Freij, who has played a major role in fighting rebels, is from Rahjan, located 90 km northwest of the city of Hama.
Freij was the army chief of staff before being named defense minister two years ago.
The attack on Rahjan came two days after rebels rampaged through the village of Khatab elsewhere in the province.
The Observatory, which Thursday said the death toll from the conflict had exceeded 170,000, noted that the same day’s death toll stood at 84, of whom 19 were civilians – the lowest such daily figure since March.