ISIS Advancing, Civilians suffering: Where is the International Response?

ISIS now controls more than 95,000 square km in Syria, which is 50 percent of the country’s territory.
ISIS’s advance, which was preceded by the capture of Anbar’s capital Ramadi and the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in the past week, comes despite eight months of US-led air strikes aimed at pushing them back. It has sparked an exodus of tens of thousands of civilians in both countries and raised fears that ISIS will repeat at Palmyra the destruction they have already wreaked at ancient sites in Iraq. As ISIS fighters fanned out across Palmyra on Thursday, they went door to door executing suspected loyalists of the Damascus government, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Activists said ISIS had searched through Palmyra for government troops and fighters, using lists of names and informers to track them down and shooting some in the head on the spot, estimating at least 150 have been killed in the past two days through this means.

Irrespective of the pro-government forces trying to curb ISIS’s advance, ISIS continues to desecrate towns and villages indiscriminately. With fears for the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on the rise, Some 11,000 people have fled the city and its surrounding villages following ISIS taking control of the area this week. About 8,000 have gone to the village of Al-Qarayateen, some 40 miles southwest of Palmyra, while another 3,000 have fled to Furglus, a village 20 miles east of Homs. People are arriving exhausted, scared and in increasing numbers. They have fled their homes in Palmyra and neighboring villages with hardly anything and report that there is no water, electricity or working mobile phone networks to ease communication. Unfortunately, Palmyra which is about 150 miles northeast of Damascus, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has been described as having stood at the crossroads of several civilizations with its art and architecture mixing Greek, Roman and Persian influences.

Fabrice Balanche, a French expert on Syria, reiterated that ISIS now dominates central Syria, a crossroads of primary importance that could allow it to advance towards the capital and third city Homs. Matthew Henman, on his part who is head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre has concluded that the ISIS advance has boosted its claim as the most effective of the armed groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Thursday it took over the last Syria-Iraq border crossing that was under the control of Syrian troops, according to the Syrian Observatory. The Tunef border crossing fell under ISIS control after Syrian regime troops withdrew. ISIS also controls the Al Waleed border station on the Iraqi side. In western Syria, Islamist rebels with Jabhat al-Nusra seized the National Hospital on the southwest outskirts of the city of Jisr Ash-Shughur from al-Assad forces.

Civil war broke out four years ago in Syria, providing an opening for groups such as ISIS to emerge and take on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Present day, with its latest offensive, ISIS controls more than half the country — in parts of 10 of 14 provinces — as well as the vast majority of the gas and oil fields.

According to Amnesty International, “World leaders have proved ‘shameful and ineffective’ in failing to protect civilians from groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)”. As people have suffered an escalation in barbaric attacks and repression, the international community has been found wanting. This reaction has been mirrored by several human rights groups across the globe. New and more effective strategies have to be used to eradicate these terrorists who do not belong in the 21st century.