IS Seizes Town in Homs

IS Seizes Town in HomsIS Seizes Town in Homs

Islamic State militants have reportedly captured the Syrian town of Maheen, in central Homs Province, from government forces.

They launched the offensive with two suicide car blasts late on Saturday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Clashes were also taking place in nearby Sadad, a mostly-Christian town, BBC reported.

The latest development comes amid air campaigns in Syria by Russia and a US-led coalition.

IS has been expanding from its mainly northern and eastern strongholds towards Homs in central Syria in recent months. The group overran the town of Tadmur—home to the ancient ruins of Palmyra - in May, and later took Qaryatain town in August.

The latest offensive on Maheen and Sadad brings IS to within 20 km of the main road that links the Syrian capital Damascus to Homs and other cities further north.

 Christian Population

The attack on Maheen began late on Saturday with twin suicide car bombs, a favored tactic for IS militants launching an assault.

By Sunday morning, the Observatory reported that the whole town was reported to be in IS hands. An IS statement also said the group had taken the town.

Maheen is home to a large military complex and arms depot.

Meanwhile, clashes between government troops and IS are said to be continuing on the outskirts of Sadad. The town is home to Syria’s Assyrian Christian minority who still speak the ancient language of Aramaic.

 Human Shields

In an attempt to ward off attacks, militant groups in the Damascus suburb of Douma are reportedly using captured soldiers and other people associated with the government as human shields.

Video has emerged of men and women in large metal cages on the back of lorries being driven slowly through the streets. One of the captives said he is an army officer and he appeals for an end to bombing in the area.

The US-led coalition, which is hitting IS targets in Syria, said on Sunday it had conducted nine airstrikes across the country, including in Mar’a and Al-Hawl, in the north.

This week the White House announced that fewer than 50 US special forces troops would be sent to Syria to assist fighting IS.

 Syria-UN meeting

Separately on Sunday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem met UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura in Damascus to discuss ongoing international talks on the Syria conflict.

Muallem said “important points” were made during talks in Vienna on Friday for pursuing a new peace effort involving the Syrian government and opposition groups.

The four-year-old war in Syria has left 250,000 people dead and forced half the country’s population—or 11 million people—from their homes.