Middle East Updates / After Seizing Palmyra, ISIS Now Controls 'Over Half' of Syria

Australia to revoke citizenship of Australian-born jihadists; Islamic State's Egypt affiliate urges attacks on judges.


For Wednesday's updates, click here 

Latest updates:

10:56 P.M. ISIS seizes Syria's last border crossing with Iraq

The Islamic State militant group has seized Syria's last border crossing with Iraq after Syrian government forces withdrew, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Thursday.

The al-Tanf crossing, known as al-Waleed in Iraq, is in Syria's Homs province, where Islamic State on Wednesday seized the historic city of Palmyra from government forces. An Islamic State fighter contacted by Reuters confirmed the group had taken control of the crossing, which is a 240 km (150 mile) drive from Palmyra. (Reuters) 

6:58 P.M. UN: One-third of Palmyra's 200,000 residents may have fled


Around a third of the 200,000 people living in the Syrian town of Palmyra may have fled in the past few days, during fighting between government forces and Islamic State militants, the UN human rights office said on Thursday.

Citing what she said were credible sources, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani in Geneva also said there were reports of government forces preventing civilians leaving until they themselves fled and Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, took control of the city.

"ISIL has reportedly been carrying out door-to-door searches in the city, looking for people affiliated with the government. At least 14 civilians are reported to have been executed by ISIL in Palmyra this week," Shamdasani said in emailed comments. (Reuters)

4:25 P.M. Russia ready to help Iraq defeat ISIS, Russian foreign minister says

Russia is ready to supply weapons to Iraq, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday, as the country struggles to halt advances by Islamic State militants.

Speaking ahead of talks in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, Lavrov told reporters Moscow would make every effort to help the Baghdad government push back the militants.

Islamic State insurgents overran the Iraqi city of Ramadi last weekend in the most significant setback for the Baghdad government in a year, exposing the weakness of Iraq's army and the limitations of U.S. air strikes. On Thursday the group seized full control of Palmyra in neighboring Syria. (Reuters) 

2:20 P.M. Australia to revoke citizenship of Australian-born jihadis

Australia plans to strip citizenship from Australian-born children of immigrants who become Islamic State fighters in its crackdown on homegrown jihadis.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sydney Radio 2GB on Thursday that his government wants to change the Citizenship Act to make fighting for the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq a reason for losing citizenship,.
He says the government also wants to adopt the British legal model by revoking the citizenship of extremists who are Australian-born children of immigrants or an immigrant, forcing them to take up citizenship in the birth country of their parents, or parent.

Australia can currently only revoke citizenship in cases of fraud in the citizenship application or where an Australian citizen joins the armed forces of another country to fight Australia. (AP)

12:00 P.M. ISIS controls half of Syria, monitoring group says

Islamic State now controls more than half of Syria after the extremist militia seized the historic city of Palmyra, a monitoring group said on Thursday.

The jihadists on Wednesday fully seized Palmyra, home to ancient ruins listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

There was no sign that the militants had started demolishing the artefacts in Syria's central city as they had previously done to ancient monuments in neighbouring Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State rules around 95,000 square kilometres, or more than 50 per cent of Syria's total geographic area.

The al-Qaeda splinter group has now a presence in nine of Syria's 14 provinces, mainly in the east and north, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

Islamic State also controls Syria's major oil and gas fields except the al-Shaar field still controlled by the government in the desert region of Palmyra and the Ramilan fields controlled by Kurdish rebels in al-Hassakeh region near the Iraqi border, according to the watchdog. (DPA)

10:25 A.M. Islamic State says in total control of Syria's Palmyra

Islamic State is in complete control of the Syrian city of Palmyra, including the military airport and prison, after the "collapse" of pro-government forces there, the militant group said on Thursday in a statement on Twitter.

The retreating forces "left behind a large number of (their) dead" which it said filled the city square, the statement said. (Reuters)

1:52 A.M. Islamic State's Egypt affiliate urges attacks on judges

The leader of Sinai Province, a militant group in Egypt with links to Islamic State, called on followers to attack judges in an audio statement posted on a prominent jihadist website on Wednesday. 

A spate of attacks targeting judges suggests they are the latest targets of an Islamist insurgency centered in North Sinai that has killed hundreds of Egyptian security forces in the past two years.

"It is wrong for the tyrants to jail our brothers," cleric Abu Osama al-Masry said, referring to judges. "Poison their food... surveil them at home and in the street... destroy their homes with explosives if you can." (Reuters) 

1:40 A.M. Ten killed as Libya's rival governments take on Islamist fighters 

Ten people were killed and almost 40 wounded when Libya's two rival governments clashed with Islamist fighters in two large cities on Wednesday, officials said. 

Supporters of Islamic State and other Islamist militant groups have exploited the turmoil in Libya, where two governments and parliaments are fighting for control four years after the ousting of Muammar Gadhafi. 

In the eastern city of Benghazi, nine soldiers were killed when fighting the Majlis al-Shura, an umbrella of mostly Islamist groups including Ansar al-Sharia blamed by Washington for the storming of a U.S. diplomatic compound in 2012 which killed the U.S. ambassador. 

At least 30 soldiers were wounded, a military spokesman said. 

Backed by helicopters, army special forces took back several government buildings in Libya's second-largest city previously held by Majlis al-Shura, said the spokesman.

In the central city of Sirte, Islamic State fighters fought with forces sent from the western city of Misrata allied to a self-declared government controlling the capital Tripoli, officials and residents said. 

One member of the Misrata-based Brigade 166 was killed and seven were wounded on Wednesday, Jamal Zubia, a spokesman for the Tripoli-based government, said in a message on social media.

Islamic State said in a Twitter message its fighters had seized a camp of the Misrata forces in southeast Sirte.  (Reuters)