IS advances in Iraq amid massacre claims in Syria

Fighters from the predominantly Sunni Muslim Islamic State group are making sweeping gains in Syria and in large parts of north and north-western Iraq. Picture: AP
Fighters from the predominantly Sunni Muslim Islamic State group are making sweeping gains in Syria and in large parts of north and north-western Iraq. Picture: AP
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ISLAMIC State (IS) militants have seized another town in Iraq’s western Anbar province less than a week after capturing the provincial capital, a tribal leader said yesterday, while in neighbouring Syria the group’s fighters killed dozens of pro-government forces in the ancient town of Palmyra.

IS fighters combed Palmyra, detaining and killing dozens of people two days after seizing the town, which is home to one of the Middle East’s most famous archaeological sites, activists and officials said.

Homs-based activist Bebars al-Talawy and an opposition Facebook page said that as many as 280 soldiers and pro-government forces have been killed in Palmyra since it was captured on Wednesday.

Mr Talawy said militants abducted soldiers and pro-government gunmen from homes, shops and other places where they had gone to hide. He added that many were shot dead in the streets.

He said IS fighters used loudspeakers warning residents against sheltering troops, leading many to come forward to give information about forces that had melted into the civilian population.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museum Department in the Syrian capital, Damascus, said “there are arrests and liquidations in Palmyra”. He added that IS fighters were “moving in residential areas, terrifying people and taking revenge”.

Mr Abdulkarim said no gunmen were seen in the area of Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old ruins, which once attracted thousands of tourists.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS fighters killed 17 men in Palmyra but unconfirmed reports said dozens more were slaughtered. Talal Barazi, governor of the central province of Homs, which includes Palmyra, said IS fighters had abducted men and “might have committed massacres”.

An amateur video posted on a pro-IS Facebook page showed people and militants gathering around two bloodied men in military uniforms in a Palmyra street. “Let all the residents see them,” one of the men in the gathering tells an IS fighter.

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other reporting of the events. The ­Observatory and Mr Talawy said IS’s next target appears to be the Tayfour airbase near Palmyra, where many of the Palmyra troops had retreated. They said IS is sending reinforcements to the airbase area.

In Iraq, the small Iraqi town of Husseiba fell to IS fighters overnight when police and tribal fighters withdrew after running out of ammunition.

“We have not received any assistance from the government. Our men fought to the last bullet and several of them were killed,” said local sheikh Rafie al-Fah­dawi.

Husseiba is about four miles east of Ramadi, where IS routed Iraqi forces last weekend.

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