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ISIS Advances In Syria, Capturing More Than 200 People


In Syria, the self-named Islamic State or ISIS is making significant gains into territory held by the government. NPR's Alice Fordham reports that it's believed that ISIS is affecting people as it advances, including many from Syria's Christian minority.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Activists inside Syria say ISIS captured the town of Qarayatayn on Wednesday, and then pushed onward toward the country’s third-largest city, Homs. Christian activist groups say more than 200 people are captured, many of them Christians. Homs is currently controlled by forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Although ISIS is unlikely to take the city immediately, its only about 40 miles away. Analyst Emile Hokayem, who wrote a book about the Syrian war, says this latest advance shows ISIS remains a potent force in Syria despite international efforts.

EMILE HOKAYEM: The notion that ISIS has suffered decisive blows is misguided.

FORDHAM: Today marks a year since President Obama announced airstrikes against ISIS. U.S. officials maintain they are degrading the organization in Syria and Iraq. But despite ISIS' violence against civilians, Hokayem says many Syrians are still more afraid of the regime than they are of ISIS, which helps the extremists keep gaining ground. At the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C., analyst Jennifer Cafarella notes this latest advance comes just two months after an ISIS victory in the historic city of Palmyra, which is also in the province of Homs.

JENNIFER CAFARELLA: I think that the current ISIS offensive and ISIS gains against the Syrian regime east of Homs are not surprising given the success ISIS has had in fighting the regime in central Syria to date.

FORDHAM: Cafarella warns they might be targeting a nearby air base that would be a major military gain for them. That base is one of a dwindling number of military installations completely controlled by the Assad regime, and is the base from which the Syrian air force attacks rebels in the north of the country. And the recent fighting doesn’t just signify gains for militants with ISIS. The regime is losing ground to other rebel groups too. In recent weeks its been fighting to protect the coastal cities where its diehard supporters live. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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