The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) killed at least 37 people in a Syrian village near the city of Hama overnight, a group monitoring the country’s civil war said. The attacks are part of a pattern by the armed group in government-held areas of western Syria.
Syrian state television put the number killed at 44 and said 21 others had been wounded in the attack on Mabouja, 40 miles east of Hama. A Syrian military source said the army had repelled the assault on Tuesday.
“Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIL] tried to attack the village, and this attack was repelled, and a large number of Daesh terrorists were killed. And now the Syrian army is imposing its control over the village,” the source said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of contacts to monitor the four-year-old civil war, said ISIL had killed entire families and that the dead included people who were burned alive.
The population of Mabouja includes Alawites and Ismailis — sects deemed heretical by the radical brand of Sunni Islam espoused by ISIL, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory.
But he said that Sunni residents were among the dead, too.
The area is some 130 miles from Raqqa — the de facto capital of the ISIL’s self-declared caliphate that spans territory in both Syria and Iraq. It is part of the western region where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sought to shore up his control.
Assad, an Alawite, enjoys backing among many members of Syrian minority communities who fear that Syria’s mostly Sunni rebel groups want to install an Islamist state in Assad’s place.
ISIL fighters have mounted numerous attacks in government-held areas in the provinces of Hama and Homs in recent weeks, even as it has lost ground in the north and northeast under pressure from a Kurdish militia backed by U.S.-led airstrikes.
“Daesh is making a lot of attempts [to advance] east of Hama. It is trying a lot in that area, particularly after its loss in Shaar field,” said the Syrian military source, referring to a gas field in Homs province reclaimed by the government in recent months.
ISIL has been moving westwards across Syria and fighters say they plan to take Salamiya, a town east of Hama city before taking control of the provincial capital itself.
Al Jazeera and Reuters