IS ambush kills 26 pro-regime fighters in Syria
The Islamic State group Monday killed 26 pro-regime fighters in eastern Syria, as alarm grew following a spate of murders including beheadings in a camp housing families of the jihadists.
Almost 10 years into Syria’s civil war, the jihadists have lost the last scrap of their so-called “caliphate” but continue to use Syria’s vast desert as a springboard for attacks.
After the battles against them, thousands of alleged jihadists and family members live in jails or overcrowded camps in the country’s Kurdish-run northeast.
Early Monday, an IS ambush in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor killed 26 pro-regime fighters, including seven Syrian troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Eleven jihadists were also killed, it said.
It was the latest in a long string of attacks on pro-regime forces.
Last week IS killed 19 in central Syria, and in December nearly 40 Syrian troops died when IS ambushed a bus carrying soldiers travelling home for the holidays.
The desert in Deir Ezzor province provides a “safe haven” for jihadists planning attacks on regime forces and other rivals, the UN has said.
Meanwhile, a Kurdish official said 14 killings, including three beheadings, had rocked the largest displacement camp housing alleged IS relatives since the start of the year.
IS overran large parts of Syria and Iraq and proclaimed a cross-border “caliphate” there in 2014, before several offensives in both countries led to its territorial defeat.
The Kurdish-led fight that expelled IS from its last holdout in March 2019 displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom ended up in camps in the Kurdish-held northeast.
– ‘Chaos and fear’ –
The largest of these is Al-Hol, which holds almost 62,000 people, of whom more than 80 percent are women and children.
Most residents are displaced Syrians and Iraqis, but thousands of women and children from Europe and Asia also live in a separate annex, accused of family ties with IS.
Sheikhmous Ahmed, an official in charge of running the camps, told AFP those killed in Al-Hol since the start of the year were 10 Iraqis and four Syrians, all camp residents.
Some had been shot dead by guns with silencers.
He blamed “IS cells in Al-Hol” targeting “those cooperating with camp management”, with the aim to “sow chaos and fear”.
But a humanitarian source said some of the murders could be linked to tribal tensions between residents.
A UN report published this month highlighted “minimal” security in Al-Hol, noting some detainees see it as the final remnant of their former so-called “caliphate”.
The number of guards at Al-Hol fell from 1,500 in mid-2019 to 400 in late 2020, the UN said.
It reported “radicalisation, training, fundraising and incitement of external operations” at the camp, with “some minors… reportedly being indoctrinated and prepared to become future” IS operatives.
Those seeking to flee the camp were paying between $2,500 and $3,000 to be smuggled out, it said, after reports of breakouts.
The Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria have long called on foreign countries to repatriate their nationals from Al-Hol and other camps in northeast Syria.
But Western nations have been largely reluctant to repatriate their IS-linked citizens, though some have brought home women and children on a case-by-case basis.
UN human rights experts in a statement Monday expressed “serious concerns at the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation” in the camps, and called for immediate repatriation.
IS retains some 10,000 active fighters in Iraq and Syria, although the majority are reported to be in Iraq, the UN says.
The war in Syria has killed more than 387,000 people since it started in 2011, the Observatory says.