Sunday 27 May 2018

More than 60 civilians killed in former IS-held town in 'shocking massacre'

Two Syrian soldiers in Qaryatayn, a town in central Syria which was recaptured from Islamic State group militants on Saturday (AP)
Two Syrian soldiers in Qaryatayn, a town in central Syria which was recaptured from Islamic State group militants on Saturday (AP)
Damaged buildings in Raqqa, after Syrian Democratic Forces said military operations to oust Islamic State group had ended and their fighters had taken full control of the city (AP Photo/ Gabriel Chaim)

More than 60 civilians whose bodies were found in a Syrian town taken back by government troops from Islamic State militants were killed in a "shocking massacre", a Syrian official has said.

Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, where the discovery was made, said the search and documentation of those killed in the town of Qaryatayn is still under way.

Mr Barazi said most of the bodies were of townspeople who were government employees or were affiliated with Syria's ruling Baath party.

Mr Barazi said at least 13 residents remain missing, while six bodies have not been identified.

He said the killings took place during the three weeks that IS was present in the town, "terrorising" its residents.

Government forces regained control of Qaryatayn on Saturday.

News of the discovery of at least 67 bodies began to emerge on Sunday. The death toll is likely to climb.

Some were shot in the street as IS militants retreated from the town, because they were suspected of working with the governments, according to activists.

At least 35 of the casualties were found shot and their bodies dumped in a shaft.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the killings of at least 128 people in Qaryatayn during the last days of IS control of the town.

The head of the Observatory, Rami Abdurrahman, said what happened in the town was a "massacre".

The activist-run group said other bodies were also found in the town streets - apparently people who had been shot by pro-government forces and suspected of working with IS.

T he Observatory also said it documented at least 12 killed at the hands of pro-government troops after they regained control of the town.

IS militants first seized Qaryatayn in August 2015, and relied on the strategically-located town to defend another of their bastions, the historic city of Palmyra.

At the time, thousands of the town's Christian residents fled, fearing the extremist group's brutality.

With Russian backing, Syrian troops regained control of the town in April 2016. But IS, facing major setbacks around Syria and Iraq, launched a new attack on the town in late September and recaptured it.

At the time, Russia accused the United States, which is battling IS, of looking the other way and allowing the militants to attack Qaryatayn.

Most of the IS militants who were involved in attacks on the town were local residents.

Pro-government media blamed the loss of Qaryatayn for the second time on what it described as militant "sleeper cells".

There was no immediate comment from the government in Damascus on the discovery of the bodies in Qaryatayn.

The apparent revenge killings underscore IS's ability to inflict heavy losses in Syria even while its militants are on the retreat in north and eastern Syria, days after having been defeated in Raqqa, the group's de facto capital.

The deaths also raise the spectre of more revenge killings by the group while it fights to hang on to its last Syrian strongholds.

Video footage shot as Syrian government troops recaptured Qaryatayn showed several bodies in the streets of the town.

In the video, a town resident says IS "monsters" killed more than a 100 people, including soldiers and civilians.

"These are people who don't know g od, they don't know anything," he said.

"They killed children and women with knives, they beat women, broke their arms."

Press Association

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