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IS captures ground in Syria

BEIRUT, Jan 18, (Agencies): Opposition activists say Islamic State fighters have captured new areas near the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the militants captured areas just north of the city on Monday, including an army base and an arms depot in the village of Ayash.

Another opposition activist, Omar Abu Leila, says IS fighters captured Ayash, which is just north of another town that IS captured over the weekend. IS controls most of Deir el-Zour province and much of the capital with the same name, while the government controls several districts in the northern part of the city and the adjacent military airport.

Syria’s government said Sunday that IS killed 300 people in an “appalling massacre” in the city of Deir el-Zour over the weekend. Five people have starved to death in the last week in the Syrian town of Madaya, where a single biscuit sells for $15 and baby milk costs $313 per kilo, despite two emergency United Nations aid deliveries to the besieged town, a UN report said. Local relief workers have reported 32 deaths of starvation in the past month, and last week two convoys of aid supplies were delivered to the 42,000 people living under a months-long blockade.

Dozens more people need immediate specialised medical care outside Madaya if they are to survive, but aid workers from the U.N. and Syrian Arab Red Crescent have managed to evacuate only 10 people, the report said. “Since 11 January, despite the assistance provided, five people reportedly died of severe and acute malnutrition in Madaya,” said the U.N. humanitarian report, published late on Sunday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday Syria’s warring parties, particularly President Bashar al-Assad’s government, were committing “atrocious acts” and he condemned the use of starvation as a weapon of war in the nearly fiveyear- old conflict.

The United Nations says there are some 450,000 people trapped in around 15 sieges across Syria, including in areas controlled by the government, Islamic State militants and other insurgent groups. The U.N. made seven requests in 2015 to bring an aid convoy to the town, and got permission to deliver aid for 20,000 people in October, the report said. After several more requests, the Syrian government allowed a life-saving aid delivery on Jan 11 and another on Jan 14. About 50 people left the town on Jan 11, the report said.The U.N. has asked Syria to allow the evacuation of a number of others needing immediate care, it said.

Syrian government forces and their allies have surrounded Madaya and neighbouring Bqine since July 2015 and imposed increasingly strict conditions on freedom of movement. One person was killed and one more seriously wounded Monday when a rocket fi red from a jihadist-controlled area in Syria slammed into a schoolyard in a Turkish border town, offi cials said. A female school cleaner was killed and a schoolgirl required an operation for her injuries in the strike on the town of Kilis just north of the border with Syria, the local governor’s offi ce said.

The town was hit by a total of three rockets, two of which fell into an open area while one more hit the yard, it said. The rocket fi re “came from Syria”, it added, without giving further details. Reports said two more were lightly wounded. Earlier reports had described the fi re as mortar shells but later Turkish media reports described the objects as Katyushatype rockets.

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