At least 700 were killed and hundreds others disappeared after fierce fighting between al-Qaeda-linked jihadists and more moderate rival rebel groups in Syria in the past nine days, an NGO said Sunday.
“From January 3 to 11, the fighting killed 697 people, among them 351 rebel fighters, 246 members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and 100 civilians,” Agence France-Presse quoted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying.
The Observatory said the death toll could also be on the rise as more dozens deaths have yet to be documented.
Since early January, the more moderate opposition groups have been battling ISIS fighters.
ISIS has alienated other factions by using brutal tactics to implement its strict interpretation of Islamic law, and by kidnapping and killing of opponents including activists.
The Britain-based monitoring group, which relies on a network of activists across Syria for its reports, also said there were “hundreds of captives from both sides whose fate is unknown.”
Jihadists stage 16 suicide attacks
During the nine-day battle ISIS fighters have also staged 16 suicide attacks, mostly car bombings, killing dozens of opposition fighters and civilians, AFP reported the Observatory as saying.
“Sixteen suicide attackers have detonated themselves in the past week, most of them in car bomb attacks, some using explosive belts,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“Dozens of people in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Raqa provinces have been killed in such attacks,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.
An ISIS commander had warned rival opposition fighters earlier this week of car bomb attacks if they pressed their offensive against the jihadists.
On Saturday alone, 39 rebels were killed in the attacks in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqa provinces, the Observatory said.
According to a rebel fighting with Ahrar al-Sham, which is leading battles against ISIS in several areas, “they use suicide attacks to terrorize society as a whole into submission, not just the fighters.”
Speaking to AFP via the Internet on condition of anonymity, the rebel said “it is one of their most deadly weapons... which they use partly for a lack of other means.”
Syrian govt shelling kills 20
Meanwhile, more than 20 people in Homs have been killed when government shelled the central city, the Associated Press reported the Observatory as saying on Sunday.
The monitoring group said that the death toll is expected rise because dozens of people were critically wounded in the shelling of the rebel-held Waer area of Homs.
The Observatory said the shelling occurred Saturday. The activist collective, the Local Coordination Committees, also published similar information.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been heightening their air assault on rebel-held areas in recent weeks, targeting opposition-held residential areas and killing civilians.
Syrian rebels have also targeted Assad-loyal areas with indiscriminate mortar fire.
On Sunday, Syria’s state media said rebel-fired mortar shells killed two people in the Assad-loyal Zahra area of the city.
More than 130,000 people have been killed in Syria and millions more displaced since March 2011.
(With AFP and AP)SHOW MORE