"Islamic State" militants have killed dozens of people, including civilians, in an offensive on two government-controlled villages in Syria. Many of the victims were reportedly beheaded and mutilated.
The large-scale attack targeted the settlements of Aqareb al-Safiyeh and Al-Mabujeh early on Thursday, near the last Damascus-controlled road connecting Aleppo with other parts of Syria. The "Islamic State" (IS) jihadists regard most of the residents in the area as infidels due to the villagers' affiliation with the small Ismaili branch of Shiite Islam.
Reports offered varying death tolls for the attack. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying that 52 people were killed, including at least 15 civilians and 27 pro-government fighters. Another 10 bodies were not immediately identified.
"Dozens of people are missing, but it is not clear if they were kidnapped by Daesh," said the Observatory's chief, Rami Abdurrahman, using an Arabic acronym for the group. He added that IS deployed snipers on the roofs of some buildings in Aqareb al- Safiyeh.
The head of the National Hospital in Salamiyeh, Dr. Noufal Safar, also said that his hospital received 52 bodies, including 11 women and 17 children. Some of them were beheaded or had missing limbs, he added.
"They were brought with all forms of deformations but most of them appear to have died as a result of gunfire," he told the AP news agency. A separate source in the hospital said 120 people were wounded.
The state-controlled SANA news agency said that 20 civilians were killed in Aqarab al-Safiyeh, but did not mention the village of Al-Mabujeh. It also reported that most of the victims were beheaded and mutilated.
'IS' still packs a punch
The Observatory's director, Abdel Rahman, said that IS lost 15 fighters of its own. According to the watchdog, the militia has seized control of Aqareb al-Safiyeh and parts of Al-Mabujeh. The Observatory also said clashes were still ongoing in the area.
"Despite the arrival of reinforcements, government forces have been unable to repel the attack so far," Rahman told the AFP news agency.
However, SANA reported that pro-government fighters pushed back the 'IS' attack in the central Hama province.
The area is divided between the government forces, 'IS', and other rebels factions. While the jihadist militia has been losing ground to Kurdish and government forces, backed by both Western and Russian military jets, 'IS' still occasionally launches surprise attacks on government-held areas.
IS fighters attacked the village of Al-Mabujeh in 2015, executing at least 37 civilians.
dj/rt (AFP, Reuters, AP)