BEIRUT, Jan 19, (Agencies): The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said scores of Syrian government forces have been killed in three days of fighting with Islamic State in the east of the country, where the jihadist group has attacked government- held areas. Islamic State advanced against government forces on Monday near the city of Deir al-Zor after attacking the towns of Ayyash and Begayliya, the Observatory said. The jihadist group is in control of most of Deir al-Zor province while the government is holding parts of the city, including a military airport — one of the few pockets of east Syria still held by President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian offi cials could not be reached for comment on the battles or the scale of losses on its side. The Britain-based Observatory said 120 members of the Syrian government forces and 70 Islamic State fighters had been killed in clashes since Saturday.
Meanwhile, Syria’s leading Kurdish militia said it had arrested and would prosecute four of its fighters accused of damaging property in a town reclaimed from the Islamic State group. The announcement comes after accusations by activists and Amnesty International of abuses by Kurdish forces against mostly Arab residents of areas recaptured from IS in northern Syria.
In a statement, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) said four of its members had been arrested “on accusations of damaging the property of citizens of Al-Hol and some surrounding villages”. “At the end of an investigation and interrogation, they have been stripped of their YPG membership and will face prosecution before a court,” the statement said. It identified the four men only by their initials, and released images of them taken from behind. Denmark told the United Nations it was “taking necessary and proportionate measures” against Islamic State in Syria, which the foreign ministry later said involved training radar located in Iraq on the neighbouring country.
Denmark had previously contributed seven F-16 fighter jets which carried out bombing missions in Iraq against Islamist militants. It pulled those jets out in September for rest and maintenance and expects them to return in the spring of 2016. German Tornado jets deployed to Syria for reconnaissance missions can’t fl y at night, Bild daily reported Tuesday in a new embarrassment for the defence ministry which has been battling equipment problems.
The six aircraft sent to Syria are fitted with surveillance technology, and had been touted as being capable of taking high-resolution photos and infrared images, even at night and in bad weather. But Bild reported that night flights were impossible as pilots are blinded by the cockpit light which is far too bright. A defence ministry spokesman admitted that there is “a small technical problem that has to do with the cockpit lighting”. Saudi Arabia, a foe of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said on Tuesday no one should dictate to the Syrian opposition who represents them at peace talks, as a proposed Jan 25 meeting looked set to be delayed by differences over who will attend.
The planned Geneva talks are part of a peace process endorsed by the UN Security Council last month in a rare display of international agreement on Syria, where a fi ve-year-old civil war has killed at least 250,000 people.
The world body said on Monday it would not issue invitations to the talks between Syria’s government and opposition until major powers pushing the peace process reached agreement on which rebel representatives should attend. The United Nations on Monday said it was waiting for regional powers spearheading the Syria peace process to agree on who will take part in talks starting in just one week’s time and raised the possibility of a delay.
The peace talks, the fi rst between the Syrian government and the opposition since 2014, are scheduled to open in Geneva on Jan 25, but invitations have yet to be sent to the delegations. The 17 countries pushing for a peace deal, including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have been struggling to agree on the list of opposition leaders who will have a seat at the negotiating table. Syrian peace talks due next week are looking increasingly moot as a string of recent battlefield victories by government troops have bolstered President Bashar Assad’s hand and plunged the rebels into disarray. The government’s advances add to the obstacles that have scuttled chances of halting — at least anytime soon — the five-year civil war that has killed a quarter of a million people, displaced half the country and enabled the radical Islamic State group to seize a third of Syria’s territory.