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isis in syria

ISIS militants have reportedly captured the Syrian town of Maheen, in central Homs Province, from government forces.

The fighters launched the offensive with two suicide car blasts on October 31, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Clashes were also taking place in nearby Sadad, a mostly-Christian town.

The latest development comes amid air campaigns in Syria by Russia and a US-led coalition.

ISIS has been expanding from its mainly northern and eastern strongholds towards Homs in central Syria in recent months. The group overran the town of Tadmur – home to the ancient ruins of Palmyra – and al-Qaryatain town.

The latest offensive on Maheen and Sadad brings ISIS to within 13 miles of the main road that links the Syrian capital Damascus to Homs and other cities further north.ISIS captures Maheen in Syria

The Observatory said at least 50 government soldiers were killed or wounded in the fighting. The attack on Maheen began late on October 31 with twin suicide car bombs, a favored tactic for ISIS militants launching an assault.

By November 1 the Observatory reported that the whole town was reported to be in ISIS hands. An ISIS statement also said the group had taken Maheen.

Maheen is home to a large military complex and arms depot.

Meanwhile, clashes between government troops and ISIS are said to be continuing on the outskirts of Sadad. The town is home to Syria’s Assyrian Christian minority, where the ancient language of Aramaic is still spoken.

It comes amid continued Russian air strikes in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which Russian officials say are targeting ISIS and other “terrorist groups”.

However, activists on the ground say the strikes have been hitting moderate rebels and civilians in western areas, where ISIS have little or no presence.

They said more than 60 people were killed by Syrian army raids and Russian strikes in the northern province of Aleppo on October 31.

On October 30, more than 70 people were reported killed and hundreds more wounded in an air strike and shelling on a market in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma.

In an attempt to ward off the attacks, rebel groups in Douma are reportedly using captured soldiers and other people associated with the government as human shields.

The US-led coalition, which is also hitting ISIS targets in Syria, said on November 1 it had conducted nine air strikes across the country, including in Mar’a and al-Hawl, in the north.

This week the White House announced that fewer than 50 US special forces troops would be sent to Syria to assist anti-government rebels in fighting ISIS.

Separately on November 1, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem met UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura in Damascus to discuss ongoing international talks on the Syria conflict.

Russia has intensified airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, its defense ministry has announced.

The ministry said on October 10 that it had hit 55 ISIS targets in Syria in the last 24 hours.

Later, US defense officials said progress had been made during talks with their Russian counterparts on avoiding accidents over Syria.

Syrian rebels and Western governments say Russia has mainly been hitting non-ISIS targets.

The US has accused Russia of running a “fundamentally flawed” campaign in Syria that risks further escalating the conflict there.

On October 10, the Russian military said that the most recent airstrikes – carried out in the provinces of Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Raqqa and Idlib – destroyed 29 “terrorist” training camps as well as 23 defensive positions, two command centers and an ammunition depot.

To explain the intensified strikes it cited “a significant increase in the number of ground targets” located by air-based and space-based reconnaissance teams across Syria.Russian airstrikes in Syria

While Raqqa in eastern Syria is an ISIS stronghold, the militants are not known to be strong in the other provinces.

“In the initial stage of our operation, our aircraft destroyed the principal and largest logistical hubs of the ISIS terrorist group,” the Russian defense ministry statement said.

“This has led to a significant reduction in the fighting potential of armed groups, and a reduction in their mobility and their capacity to launch offensives.”

Russia maintains that rebel fighters are running short of arms, ammunition and fuel, leading many rebels to abandon their combat positions and head for the country’s east and north-east.

There have been concerns that there could be an accidental clash as the two countries pursue separate bombing campaigns over Syria.

The US and its NATO allies have expressed alarm at violations of Turkish air space by Russian jets last weekend.

On October 10, officials at the Department of Defense said they had held a conference call of around 90 minutes on air safety during Syria bombing campaigns.

“The discussions were professional and focused narrowly on the implementation of specific safety procedures,” a spokeswoman said, adding that another discussion would take place in the near future.

Russia and US military will hold talks “as soon as possible” to avoid clashing in Syria, the countries’ top diplomats say.

Russian defense officials say their aircraft carried out about 20 missions against the so-called Islamic State group (ISIS) on September 30.

However, the US expressed fears the targets were non-ISIS opponents of Russia’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The US is targeting ISIS with air strikes in both Syria and Iraq.

NATO said there had been little co-ordination by Russia with US-led forces against ISIS, also known as Isil. The US says it was informed of Wednesday’s air strikes only an hour before they took place.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal report that US-backed rebels were targeted by Russia.Russia and US talks on Syria airstrikes

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said there was a need to “establish channels of communication to avoid any unintended incidents”. His US counterpart, John Kerry, said talks will be held “as soon as possible,” maybe as early as October 1.

John Kerry added: “It’s one thing to be targeting Isil, but the concern, obviously, is that this is not what was happening.”

France’s Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told French lawmakers: “Curiously, they didn’t hit Islamic State. I will let you draw a certain number of conclusions yourselves.”

Syria’s civil war has raged for four years, with an array of armed groups fighting to overthrow the government.

The US and its allies have insisted that President Bashar al-Assad should leave office, while Russia has backed him remaining in power.

The Russian defense ministry said the country’s air force had targeted ISIS military equipment, communication facilities, arms depots, ammunition and fuel supplies – and did not hit civilian infrastructure or areas nearby.

Syrian opposition activists said Russian warplanes hit towns including Zafaraneh, Rastan and Talbiseh, resulting in the deaths of at least 36 civilians, a number of them children.

None of the areas targeted was controlled by ISIS, activists said.

In a TV address, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the air strikes were targeting Islamist militants – including Russian citizens – who have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq.

“If they [militants] succeed in Syria, they will return to their home country, and they will come to Russia, too,” he said.

He added that Russia would be “supporting the Syrian army purely in its legitimate fight with terrorist groups”.

Vladimir Putin also said he expected President Bashar al-Assad to talk with the Syrian opposition about a political settlement, but clarified that he was referring to what he described as “healthy” opposition groups.

Russia has conducted the first airstrikes in Syria against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

The strikes reportedly hit rebel-controlled areas of Homs and Hama provinces, causing casualties.

The US says it was informed an hour before they took place.

Russian defense officials say aircraft targeted the Islamic State (ISIS) group, but an unnamed US official told Reuters that so far they did not appear to be targeting ISIS-held territory.

Syria’s civil war has raged for four years, with an array of armed groups fighting to overthrow the government.

The US and its allies have insisted that President Bashar al-Assad should leave office, while Russia has backed its ally remaining in power.

Photo CNN

Photo CNN

The upper house of the Russian parliament granted President Vladimir Putin permission to deploy the Russian air force in Syria.

The Russian defense ministry said the country’s air force had targeted ISIS military equipment, communication facilities, arms depots, ammunition and fuel supplies.

A Syrian opposition activist network, the Local Co-ordination Committees, said Russian warplanes hit five towns – Zafaraneh, Rastan, Talbiseh, Makarmia and Ghanto – resulting in the deaths of 36 people, including five children.

None of the areas targeted were controlled by ISIS, activists said.

In a TV address, President Vladimir Putin said the air strikes were targeting Islamist militants – including Russian citizens – who have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq.

“If they [militants] succeed in Syria, they will return to their home country, and they will come to Russia, too,” he said.

Vladimir Putin added that Russia was not going to send ground troops to Syria, and that its role in Syrian army operations would be limited.

“We certainly are not going to plunge head-on into this conflict… we will be supporting the Syrian army purely in its legitimate fight with terrorist groups.”

Vladimir Putin also said he expected President Bashar al-Assad to talk with the Syrian opposition about a political settlement, but clarified that he was referring to what he described as “healthy” opposition groups.

A US defense official said: “A Russian official in Baghdad this morning informed US embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying anti-ISIL [ISIS] missions today over Syria. He further requested that US aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions.”

State department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “The US-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL [ISIS].”