IS militants seize central Syria town in new push
The Islamic State militant group is advancing in central Syria, seizing control of a town that lies near a main road leading to the capital, Damascus, and attacking another, reports said.
The capture of Mahin, in the central Homs province, and the push toward majority-Christian town of Sadad, marks a new advance of IS beyond its strongholds in northern and eastern Syria. The group had seized control of the ancient city of Palmyra in May and a neighbouring village.
The new IS expansion comes despite Russian air strikes in Syria, which Moscow says target IS and other terrorist groups.
IS militants have also made recent gains in Aleppo, seizing villages from other rebel groups and controlling a section of a strategic highway that serves as a supply route into government-controlled areas of Aleppo.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said after intensive clashes with government troops, IS forces captured Mahin and were now pushing their way northwest toward Sadad.
Sadad is home to Syria's Assyrian Christian minority and the ancient language of Aramaic is still spoken there.
The IS internet radio broadcast, Al-Bayan, said the group took control of large arms depots in Mahin after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a government checkpoint outside the town, opening the way for its fighters to advance.
The Observatory reported air strikes on Mahin, following IS control of the town.
Meanwhile rebels in a suburb of the Syrian capital which came under heavy bombings have paraded government loyalists in cages in the streets, using them as human shields against further attacks.
Videos of the metal cages mounted on pick-up trucks roaming the streets of Douma surfaced on Sunday, with each carrying at least half a dozen government soldiers or women professing to be members of the Alawite minority.
The Shaam news agency, operated by anti-government activists, said at least 100 cages are deployed in residential areas of the rebel-suburb as a way to pressure the government to stop its bombing. At least 70, mostly civilians, were killed after a government barrage of missiles hit a Douma market on Friday.
The Observatory said government troops have also used the practice in majority-Shiite villages in the northern rebel-held province of Idlib.