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BY AFP/// The Islamic State group mounted a deadly gas attack against Syrian troops at a besieged eastern airbase, state news agency SANA said, the latest report of the jihadists’s use of chemical weapons.
SANA did not say precisely how many soldiers had been killed in the attack on the government-controlled airbase outside the divided eastern city of Deir el-Zour.
“Daesh (IS) terrorists attacked Deir el-Zour military airport with rockets carrying mustard gas, causing some people to suffocate,” it reported late Monday.
The reports are the latest in a string of suspected mustard gas attacks by the jihadists in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
On March 9, a suspected IS gas attack on the Iraqi town of Taza, south of Kirkuk, killed three children and wounded some 1,500 people, with injuries ranging from burns to rashes and respiratory problems.
While the chemical agents allegedly used by IS so far have been among their least effective weapons, the psychological impact on civilians is considerable.
A total of 25,000 people fled their homes in and around Taza last month, fearing another attack.
IS has been battling to capture Deir el-Zour airbase since 2014. It provides the only supply route other than air drops to the government-held sector of the city, where more than 200,000 civilians are living under IS siege.
On Monday, an IS bombardment of two government-held districts of the city killed seven civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Two suicide bombers also blew themselves up in the village of Jafra near the airbase, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Deir el-Zour province is vital for Islamic State because it lies between its de facto Syrian and Iraqi capitals Raqqa and Mosul.
In recent weeks, IS has faced intense pressure in Syria at the hands of both the Russian-backed army and US-backed Kurdish-led rebels.
An offensive by the army pushed the jihadists out of the ancient city of Palmyra late last month, opening up the possibility of a strike across the desert to relieve the siege of Deir el-Zour.
The last remaining Christians in Syria’s Raqqa are being forbidden from leaving “under any condition” by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists who control the de-facto capital of the terrorist group, as forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad and their allies advance towards the city.
Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered (RBSS), a group founded by journalists turned activists, revealed that ISIS has put out a new edict prohibiting both Christians and Armenians from leaving Raqqa, the terrorist group’s self-declared capital in Syria.
The revelation came over a month after various news outlets reported that Assad forces, backed by Russian airstrikes in addition to Iranian fighters and Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah, are advancing towards Raqqa.
Syrian forces “have taken rebel ground near Aleppo and are now poised to advance on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa province,” reported the Independent. Raqqa is the capital of a province that bears the same name.
Under mounting pressure, the Obama administration finally conceded in mid-March that ISIS has committed genocide against Christians and other religious minority groups in the areas it has conquered. The U.S. Congress voted unanimously to make the declaration days earlier. Initially, the Obama administration was reluctant to make the designation.
Currently, there are approximately 43 Christian families, made up of two to three persons, still residing in Raqqa, the activist group said in a statement on Twitter.
ISIS seized Raqqa in March 2013 in a battle against the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front and Assad regime troops. The city became the first provincial capital to fall under ISIS control.
“The suffering of Christians began with ISIS control of Raqqa,” RBSS said on its website, referring to the treatment of Christians under the terrorist group, reports The Foreign Desk.
“ISIS looks at Christians as infidels loyal to the West more than their loyalty to their homeland which they live,” added the group.
The Independent quoted an RBSS member writing under the nom de guerre Abu Mohammed as saying that ISIS implemented the ban on Easter without any explanation.
Christians have reportedly been unable to celebrate Easter since ISIS took over Raqqa in 2013.
The majority of Christians who remain trapped in Raqqa are low-income families who lacked the means to abandon the city when the opportunity presented itself, notes the Independent.
“They suffer from the decisions and practices of the organisation (Isis), which has occupied their places of worship while forcing them to pay tribute, although they are deprived from practicing their rituals and religious practices,” wrote Mohammed said, noting that they are constantly harassed.
In the 1920s, Christians, who had lived there for over 2000 years, constituted nearly one-third of the population in Syria, home to historic Christian sites and artifacts that have been decimated and sold on the black market by ISIS.
“Popular belief holds that the apostle Paul converted on the road to Damascus, and a small segment of Christians from the town of Maaloula still speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke,” notes The Foreign Desk.
“More recently, 10 percent of Syria’s 22 million population were Christians,” it adds.
Christians are forced to choose between three options in areas controlled by ISIS: Convert to Islam, pay an extortionate rate/tax (jizya), or face execution.
The Barnabas Fund, a charity group, has joined other NGOs and various United Nations members in accusing ISIS of killing thousands of Christians, including by crucifixion and beheadings, Breitbart News reported, adding that ISIS has also kidnapped and displaced thousands more from their ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria.
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