Over 50 killed as Islamic State tries to take eastern Syria airport


Islamic State militants gained ground in their push against Syrian troops holding Deir al-Zour military airport, key to retaining the last regime territory in the east of the country, a monitoring group said.

At least 36 Islamic State fighters and 18 government troops were killed as Islamic State captured two buildings on the edge of the airport, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Meanwhile in New York, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of an investigative mechanism to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The Security Council, which passed a resolution seeking accountability, responded to recommendations by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the details of setting up a joint investigative mechanism with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

“The secretary general … shall, without delay, undertake all steps, measures and arrangements necessary for the speedy establishment and full functioning of the [mechanism],” said Stephane Dujarric, Ban’s spokesman.

After a resolution in September 2013, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was required to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons stockpile and stop the use of chemicals as weapons.

Even after the OPCW verified and destroyed the country’s declared chemical weapons, attacks using chlorine gas and other toxic chemicals have been reported.

The clashes on the ground came after rebels and al-Qaeda militants on Wednesday captured Abu Duhour airbase south of Aleppo after a two-year siege.

Syrian government forces hold about half of Deir al-Zour city, their last foothold in Islamic State-dominated eastern Syria.

The airport is their only supply route after the jihadists in recent months captured wide areas of Syria’s central desert, including the ancient city of Palmyra on the road linking Deir al-Zour to Damascus.

The Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front, meanwhile, trumpeted the capture of Abu Duhour airbase, publishing photographs of what it said were 60 prisoners.

Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said 56 troops had been killed and 40 captured as the isolated base fell, with the fate of other soldiers still unknown.

Al-Nusra-linked Saudi preacher Abdullah al-Mheisny appeared in a video that was apparently shot inside the Abu Duhour airbase and released on opposition news sites and by media activists.

Standing in front of a damaged military helicopter with four blindfolded prisoners kneeling beside him, al-Mheisny said: “Oh mothers of the soldiers, you can either see your sons in this way and then see them killed, or pull them out of the army.”

The capture and killing by Islamic State forces of government troops isolated in besieged military bases has caused anger in government-held regions of Syria.

Meanwhile, British ex-prime minister Gordon Brown, the United Nations’ special envoy for education, appealed to the international community to raise 250 million dollars to provide education to 1 million Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Brown said 100,000 Syrian children in Lebanon were already attending school in a double-shift system, in which Lebanese children are at school in the morning and Syrians attend classes in the afternoon.

He said he wanted to raise the number of Syrian children in school to 200,000 in Lebanon and to introduce the system in Jordan and Turkey.

“The issue here … is not principally the lack of teachers or the lack of facilities or the lack of classrooms – it is the lack of funds,” Brown said.

Brown said he hoped that the money could be raised within the next few weeks. He noted that by using the double-shift system, the cost of educating Syrian refugees comes to 500 dollars each annually, much lower than if new schools had to be built.