ISIS militants capture city of Hassakeh as more Syrian rebel fighters reportedly join ranks
ISIS militants have seized an army position in the Syrian city of Hassakeh, The Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday, following up on recent gains against President Bashar Assad’s forces.
“ ISIS jihadists took over the army’s Regiment 121 at Maylabieh” in northeast province after a three-day battle, the Britain-based Observatory said.
On Twitter, supporters of ISIS celebrated the army position’s “liberation” and posted video footage purporting to show ISIS fighters examining the complex. No information on the casualties from both sides was immediately available.
The latest advance came a day after ISIS took over the sprawling Division 17 army complex in Raqqa, one of the few pockets of territory not held by the group in the province.
According to the Observatory, at least 85 regime troops were killed during the ISIS takeover in Raqqa, among them more than 50 who were summarily executed.
“Some of the executed troops were beheaded, and their bodies and severed heads put on display in Raqqa city,” an ISIS stronghold, Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP.
Video shot by jihadists and posted on YouTube showed ISIS fighters apparently inside Division 17 living quarters burning a portrait of Assad.
The jihadists also distributed photographs of decapitated soldiers strewn on the pavements and strung onto railings of Raqqa city.
Abdel-Rahman said the public display was “a message to the people of Raqqa, to tell them it is strong, that it isn’t going anywhere, and to terrify” any opponents.
According to pro-regime Internet news outlets, between 100 and 200 soldiers and officers fled the Raqqa base and arrived in next-door Hassakeh province.
But the regime recaptured Shaar gas field Saturday in Homs province from ISIS, which had captured the field nearly two weeks ago, reportedly killing 270 guards, pro-regime paramilitary and civilian employees. ISIS fighters had destroyed the equipment at the site before retreating. Syrian state television confirmed that troops recaptured the field, saying that “large numbers of ISIS terrorists were wiped out.”While ISIS has escalated its offensive against the regime in parts of Syria in the past two weeks, it has been at open war since January against rebels seeking Assad’s ouster.
In Aleppo province over the weekend, ISIS fighters also continued their separate clashes with Islamist rebel militias, and the Kurdish YPG militia.
The Observatory said Sunday that in the village of Ahmadieh near the Turkish border, ISIS fighters ambushed and summarily executed 12 rebels, and in a separate incident nearby, decapitated three rebels and displayed their bodies in the public square of the town of Rai, to intimidate residents.
The hard-line group also clashed with Kurdish fighters near the town of Ain Arab, but suffered losses in men and the loss of a vehicle.
On another front, rebels captured weapons depots in Hama province, the Observatory said, as they seized the villages of Khattab and Rahbeh.
The rebels, Abdel-Rahman added, were “advancing toward Hama military airport,” a key army position and site of one of Syria’s most feared prisons.
Video posted by activists on YouTube showed some of the weapons seized by the rebels in Hama, including rockets, ammunition and mortars.
Separately, a car bomb exploded in the city of Homs, killing at least seven people, the country’s state news agency reported. SANA said the vehicle targeted a neighborhood that is home to mostly minority Christians and Alawites. It said two rockets also were fired at the site after the bombing.
The gains by ISIS as it conducts a coordinated, multifront offensive come as more and more Syrian rebels join its ranks, according to UN human rights investigators. During a session late Friday in New York, they said ISIS was undergoing a degree of “Syrian-ization.”
Members of the independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria informally briefed the U.N. Security Council ahead of submitting their latest report this week. “What began with a lot of foreign fighters, now you have authentic Syrian citizens,” Brazilian chief investigator Paulo Pinheiro said. “We are seeing more Syrians coming to ISIS than before.”
The Observatory reported Sunday that 35 Islamist fighters from the province of Idlib defected from their militia and headed for Raqqa, to declare their allegiance to ISIS.