Syria: Army Seizes Homs from ISIS, Seven White Helmets Killed in Jihadist Held Idlib

Blood drips over the White Helmets rescue group's logo at their offices, after an attack on the volunteer group in the city of Sarmin in Idlib province, northwestern Syria, 12 August 2017. (Photo: STR/EPA/REX/Shutterstock)

Syrian government forces and its allies seized full control of the last Islamic State stronghold in Homs province.

Footage that circulated on social media showed Syrian soldiers firing celebratory gunfire and showed the terrorists’ deserted arms caches and hideouts in the town of al-Sukhna, 50 km northeast of the ancient city of Palmyra. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the town was captured after heavy army artillery fire and air strikes by government ally Russia.

These gains enable further advances into eastern areas held by Islamic State (ISIS), including the province of Deir al-Zor, where the circle around jihadists is slowly forming as the government forces are pushing from their positions in southern parts of Raqqa province.

On other fronts, Islamic State is rapidly losing its territory to the US-backed mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic (SDF) Forces, currently engaged in offensive on Raqqa, jihadists’ de facto capital in Syria.

At the moment, ISIS controls nearly entire Deir al-Zor, while the Syrian army holds a small enclave in Deir al-Zor city, and a nearby military base.

Seven White Helmets Members Shot in Idlib

Unidentified assailants shot dead seven members of Syria’s White Helmets rescue service early Saturday during a raid on their base in a jihadist-held northwestern town of Sarmin, the group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the volunteers had been killed by bullets to the head. “Colleagues came in the morning for the change of shift and found them dead,” its director, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

Two minibuses, some white helmets and walkie-talkies were stolen, so it was not clear whether the motive for the attack was political or criminal.

The White Helmets organization was formed in 2013, working to rescue civilians in rebel-held areas in Syria. It is also active in Turkey. Since they are funded by a number of Western governments, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies often accuse them of supporting rebels and terrorists, as well as being “tools of their international donors.”

Since late July, Idlib has been ruled by Syrian jihadist alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by al Qaeda’s former Syria branch. The shift happened after their main rival, moderate Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, evacuated from several key points in the area. Tahrir al-Sham was formed in January 2017 from a merger of several Islamist factions and Syria’s former al Qaeda affiliate, known as the Nusra Front.

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