IS militants seize key Syrian town in Homs

IS militants seize key Syrian town in Homs
Islamic State militants have taken over a strategically important town in Homs, as IS affiliated Syrian rebel group confirmed that it was talking to Iran.
2 min read
06 August, 2015
IS-affiliated group Ahrar al-Sham said it had been in talks with Iran [Anadolu]

Militants from the Islamic State group (IS) seized control of a key town in the central Syrian province of Homs overnight after heavy clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a monitor said on Thursday.

The violent group started the attack on Wednesday morning when three suicide bombers targeted pro-regime checkpoints at entrances to the city, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The IS seized al-Qaryatain town in the southeastern countryside of Homs after violent clashes with pro-regime forces and loyalist fighters," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

A total of 37 regime soldiers and loyalist fighters were killed, while 23 IS fighters also died, Abdel Rahman said.

He added that the town held strategic importance because of its location along a road linking the ancient city of Palmyra, which has been held by IS militants since May, with the region of Qalamun in Damascus province.

"The control of al-Qaryatain allows the IS to link the areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Homs with the areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Qalamun, and allows it to transfer fighters and supplies between the two regions," Abdel Rahman said.

Rebel group in Iran talks

Meanwhile, IS-affiliated Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham said on Wednesday it had been in talks with an Iranian delegation regarding the Syrian city of Zabadani but that the discussions had been halted.

Any such talks between the conservative Sunni Islamist group and Shia Iran would be highly unusual. Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanese Hezballah fighters fighting on the ground in Syria's four-year-old insurgency.

The statement said Ahrar al-Sham had objected to what it called Iran's "determination" to empty Zabadani of civilians and fighters. Syrian government and Hezballah forces have been attacking rebel-held Zabadini.

The ongoing clashes between government troops and the militant group are one of many fronts in Syria's complex war, which has left more than 230,000 people dead since it began in March 2011.