Security

Syrian fighters upping attacks on civilians during pandemic: UN

By AFP

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Women salvage items from the rubble of a destroyed house in the eastern Syrian village of al-Baghouz on March 13th, a year after the fall of ISIS. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

The UN on Friday (May 8th) accused the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and others in Syria of exploiting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to step up violence on civilians.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet lamented a surge in violence in the country already ravaged by nearly a decade of conflict.

"We are receiving more reports every day of targeted killings and bombings from one end of the country to the other, with many such attacks taking place in populated areas," she said.

She highlighted that the surge in violence comes as the world is focused on halting the spread of coronavirus, which has killed nearly 270,000 people worldwide.

"Various parties to the conflict in Syria... appear to view the global focus on the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to regroup and inflict violence on the population," she said.

Bachelet voiced particular concern at an uptick in attacks claimed by ISIS, saying the "deteriorating situation is a ticking time-bomb that must not be ignored".

The UN rights office said it had documented at least 35 civilian deaths in April due to attacks involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs), compared to seven a month earlier.

Since the start of March, it said there had been 33 IED attacks, including 26 in residential neighbourhoods, while seven other attacks hit markets.

ISIS attack in Syrian desert

An ISIS attack in the Syrian desert on Thursday killed 11 Syrian regime and allied fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The fighters died in an attack on their vehicle between al-Sokhna and al-Shula in the area straddling Homs and Deir Ezzor provinces, the Observatory said.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman could not immediately provide further details, but warned that the casualty toll could rise.

There was no immediate claim from ISIS.

At least 27 Syrian regime and allied fighters were killed in an attack by the extremist group in the same desert area a month ago.

ISIS also has carried out deadly attacks in Iraq in recent weeks.

Observers have warned that border closures and mobilisation of security resources due to the coronavirus pandemic could give rise to a surge in ISIS attacks.

The extremist group no longer has fixed positions, but it still has hundreds of fighters hunkered down in desert hideouts.

Two members of the Syrian Democratic Forces also were killed in a suspected ISIS attack in al-Baghouz, near the border with Iraq, the Observatory said.

Such attacks against the SDF have been frequent in that part of Deir Ezzor province, where ISIS made a bloody last stand at the beginning of 2019.

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