More than 700 killed in Syria as ISIS tightens grip on east
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—More than 700 people were killed in Syria over the course of Thursday and Friday, in what activists say were the bloodiest 48 hours of fighting in the conflict to date.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Rami Abdul Rahman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that this was the first time casualties had topped 700 in the space of two days since the conflict began in 2011. He contrasted the violence to the gas attack in the Ghouta region close to Damascus last year, which he said killed around 500 people.
The UK-based SOHR tracks casualties on both sides of the Syrian conflict by collating reports from a network of observers on the ground in the country.
The final toll was announced after the SOHR reported that 270 people had been killed in fighting between pro-Syrian government forces and militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), when the latter seized the Shaar gas field east of the city of Homs on Friday.
Abdul Rahman said the death toll of Thursday’s clashes was 396 people, while Friday’s total reached 314, adding that 90 more people were still unaccounted for, although they were also expected to have been killed.
At the end of June, ISIS declared that it had formed an “Islamic State” on territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, and had appointed its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as a new “caliph,” or spiritual and political leader of the world’s Muslims.
While this, and its role at the vanguard of the rebellion against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, has gained the most attention in recent weeks, the group has also continued its attempts to win more territory in Syria. In particular, it is continuing to strengthen its hold on provinces in eastern Syrian territories like Deir Ezzor, expelling or killing members of other Syrian rebel groups and battling to take territory controlled by Syrian Kurds.
As well as expanding territory under its control, ISIS is also reported to be cracking down on activities it deems contrary to its radical interpretation of Islamic law, including execution by public stoning.
ISIS reportedly carried out the stoning of a woman charged with adultery in the main stadium of the city of Tabqa on Thursday. SOHR said ISIS fighters brought a car filled with rocks and stoned the woman they accused of adultery to death, adding that residents refused to participate in the stoning.