Middle East

Jihadists besieging Deir al-Zor, activist group warns

A Syrian man sits on the rubble of a destroyed building following reported air strikes by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo, on June 13, 2014. Syria's war has killed more than 162,000 people and forced nearly half the population to flee their homes. (AFP PHOTO / BARAA AL-HALABI)

BEIRUT: The Al-Qaeda-breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria has prevented food and medical supplies from reaching some neighborhoods in an eastern Syrian city, an activist group said Friday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the siege is mostly on rebel-held neighborhoods of Deir al-Zor.

The Observatory said that an offensive by ISIS in eastern Syria against rival Islamic rebel factions has killed more than 640 people and uprooted at least 130,000 since the end of April.

ISIS’ campaign in the oil-rich Deir al-Zor province appears aimed at linking the large expanse of territory under its control in northern and eastern Syria with areas it has captured in neighboring Iraq. It seized that country’s second-largest city of Mosul and other areas earlier this week in a lightning advance toward Baghdad.

The group, which is largely composed of foreign jihadists, has made significant headway in Syria over the past six weeks, seizing towns and villages in heavy fighting against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other Islamic rebel groups.

The Islamic State recently captured a bridge on the Euphrates river that was the main entrance to rebel-held parts of the city, which is contested by rebels and government forces, the Observatory said.

The Observatory, which has a network of activists around Syria, said the Islamic State is preventing vehicles from entering or leaving the neighborhoods, home to 25,000 people.

“Some residents have informed activists with the Observatory that there is food only to keep residents inside the city alive,” it said.

Syrian government forces and rebels have besieged several areas over the course of the 3-year-old civil war in a bid to starve out their opponents, a tactic that has been condemned by the United Nations and human rights groups.

Elsewhere in the country, government forces bombed Homs, Deraa and Aleppo, where at least six civilians were killed, according to the Local Coordination Committees, another activist network.

Also Friday, A Belgian court ordered that 46 suspected members of a radical Islamist group, believed to be involved in sending young fighters to Syria, stand trial later this year.

Sixteen people alleged to be part of Sharia4Belgium, including its head Fouad Belkacem, face charges of leading a terrorist organization, the federal justice office said.

The remaining 30 will be tried on charges of belonging to Sharia4Belgium, it said.

However, only eight of the 46 ordered to face trial are currently in Belgium, scene last month of an attack at a Jewish museum in Brussels that left four people dead and shocked the country.

The others are believed to be in Syria where some of them may have been killed, the federal justice office said.

“The trial is likely to take place in September, at the earliest,” a judiciary spokesman was quoted as saying by the Belga news agency.

Sharia4Belgium, based in the northern port city of Antwerp, campaigned for the introduction of Sharia Islamic law in the country.

In 2012, it said it was disbanding but the authorities suspect that it has continued to recruit dozens of volunteers to fight in Syria.

The attack at the Jewish museum in the center of Brussels has raised fears of a resurgence of anti-Semitic violence in Europe and of terror strikes from foreign fighters returning from Syria.

Belgium has been active in working with its EU partners to tackle the problem and leaders of the G7 industrialized nations recently also agreed to take up the issue.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2014, on page 12.




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