11/02/2015, 00.00
SYRIA
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The Islamic State advances in Homs province, with sights set on Christian town

Over the weekend militiamen tore Maheen from government army control. It is a strategic location site of a vast military and weapons depot. Now the goal is Sadad, a majority Assyrian town, where they still speak the ancient Aramaic. Some "important points" agreed on in Vienna talks.

Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Islamic State (IS) has taken control of the Syrian town of Maheen, in the central Homs province, wresting it from the government military. According to local witnesses, quoted by the London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the jihadists launched the offensive on October 31 with the explosion of two car bombs. There are currently ongoing clashes in neighboring Sadad, a Christian majority town in the region.

The militia offensive continues, regardless of the air strikes unleashed by Russia - that entered the conflict at the end of September – or those of the international coalition led by the United States.

From strongholds in the north and east of Syria, in recent months the militia has begun to advance into the central province of Homs. The fundamentalists took over the town of Tadmur in May, home to the historical complex of Palmyra, and a few months later, in August, they took control of al-Qaryatain.

The recent offensive, which has Maheen and Sadad as its main target, will leave IS militias only 20 km from the main road that links the capital, Damascus, with four other major cities farther north, including Homs.

In the recent fighting at least 50 government army soldiers were killed or wounded. The attack, which began Saturday, October 31, ended yesterday morning with the arrival of the militiamen in the city and their taking control of the area. Maheen is a strategic location, within which a vast military and weapons depot are located.

Meanwhile, clashes continue between government and jihadis near the town of Sadad, home to a large Christian and Assyrian community in which its inhabitants still speak the ancient Aramaic.

On the diplomatic front, yesterday the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Muallem met the UN special envoy Staffan Mistura of Damascus, to discuss recent international talks on the conflict and the situation in the country. According to Muallem some "important points" were agreed in Vienna among the Syrian allies (Iran and Russia) and opponents (the US Saudi Arabia, Turkey), which could facilitate a peace process that involves both the Syrian government and opponents.

Since March 2011, the date of the beginning of the clashes between Assad's government and a varied coalition of opponents, 240,381 people have died. According to UN figures, there are about 10 million displaced. At least 4 million have chosen neighboring countries - Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq - while another 150 thousand have applied to the European Union for asylum. The other 6.5 million are internally displaced, people who have had to abandon everything but have chosen to remain in the country.

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