Middle East

Residents flee Syria-Iraq border areas

Emergency personnel aid an injured man following an alleged airstrike by a Syrian army helicopter in the northern city of Aleppo on June 23, 2014. AFP PHOTO/AMC/ZEIN AL-RIFAI

BEIRUT: A campaign in Syria and Iraq by militants from the Al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is producing new waves of refugees fleeing the fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday.

ISIS declared two villages southeast of the city of Deir al-Zor a “military zone” and asked residents to leave the area, the Observatory said.

Further down the Euphrates River, another “large” wave of people were fleeing fighting on the Iraqi side of the border, at the city of Al-Qaim.

ISIS militants took Al-Qaim over the weekend, as troops and security personnel abandoned the city.

The Observatory said people were now fleeing toward the Syrian city of Al-Bukamal, because of violence.

It said that the bodies of 30 people, who included “fighters, smugglers and civilians,” were discovered at Al-Qaim. The Britain-based Observatory said they had originally been detained by Iraqi border police but were then summarily executed when the Iraqis melted away in the face of the advance by ISIS.

The Observatory said ISIS fighters led by Saddam al-Jamal, a former rebel commander of the Free Syrian Army, were now gathering in the area around Al-Bukamal in preparation of an assault against the town, which is held by its Al-Qaeda rival the Nusra Front and local Islamist allies.

In the city of Raqqa, an ISIS stronghold, further west on the Euphrates, the Observatory reported that a regime airstrike against a government building killed five people and wounded a number of others as employees were heading to work.

It said the strike targeted the entrance of the Euphrates Basin water authority in the city, while pro-opposition websites said ISIS militants had no presence in the area.

The fighting that has pitted ISIS against the Nusra Front and its allies also raged in rural Aleppo province.

A local activist group from Aleppo said anti-ISIS rebels managed to seize a village in the northern part of the province from the Al-Qaeda splinter group, which is also clashing with Kurdish militias that control slivers of territory near the border with Turkey.

The Observatory has reported that ISIS militants in rural Aleppo have already begun to use Humvees captured during their offensive in Iraq in their battles against their many rivals.

In the city of Aleppo, five people – a man, two women and two children – were killed in a barrel bomb strike by a regime helicopter targeted the neighborhood of Halak. A barrel bomb strike on the Bab al-Nasr neighborhood overnight killed four people, three of whom were minors, the Observatory said.

Also, both regime- and rebel-held areas of Aleppo continue to suffer from acute shortages of water, the Observatory said. Various rebel groups and ISIS have been blamed for the cuts in recent months.

In the area around Damascus, the Observatory said 11 airstrikes targeted the southern suburb of Mliha, where government forces have been trying to push out rebels for weeks.

It said five surface-to-surface missiles were launched at Mliha as clashes raged between rebels and government forces, backed by paramilitaries.

The Observatory put Sunday’s nationwide death count at 129 people, 43 of whom were civilians.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 24, 2014, on page 8.




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