As the world focused on Ukraine and Gaza over the weekend, the bloodiest 48-hour period in Syria's civil war went largely unnoticed. More than 700 Syrians were killed on Thursday and Friday, according to an NGO tracking the conflict, providing a stark reminder that a war that has raged for years shows no signs of winding down.
The Shaar gas field in central Syria saw some of the heaviest fighting. It is a crucial gas supply facility for the country's central region and among the largest in Syria. Islamic State fighters attacked the field Wednesday night -- just hours after Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a third seven-year term as president -- and seized it Thursday, killing 270 government soldiers, guards, and staff. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO, at least 40 militants from the group formerly known as ISIS were killed. Over the weekend, the body count grew by 100.
More than 170,000 people have died since the conflict began in March 2011. And the war has created an unprecedented refugee crisis that has displaced 2.8 million people, including many women and children.
On Monday, Islamic State fighters clashed in Damascus with other anti-Assad rebels who initially embraced the group but now are trying to expel it from the city. They've successfully ousted the organization from sections of the capital and its outskirts but the Islamic State's influence has recently expanded, encompassing an oil-rich area in the eastern Deir ez Zor province. The organization controls much of Syria's east.
The Islamic State violently rekindled the Iraqi conflict in June, conquering the central part of the country and coming close to Baghdad. At the end of June, the group declared the formation of an Islamic state -- a new caliphate -- across the territories it controls in both countries.
The Sunni-dominated Islamic State is fighting Iraqi government forces as well as pro-government Shiite militias. In a report released Friday, the United Nations condemned all sides in the current upheaval, accusing them of violating human rights and committing war crimes. At least 1,531 civilians were killed in Iraq in June.
"ISIL and associated armed groups have carried out many of these attacks in a systematic manner heedless of the impact on civilians, or have systematically targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure with the intention of killing and wounding as many civilians as possible," the report states.
The U.N. accuses the Iraqi government forces of violations -- including extrajudicial killings and executions -- that "may amount to war crimes."
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