24 May 2015

IS ‘executes hundreds’ in Palmyra amid call for intervention

Islamic State fighters have killed at least 400 people in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, most of them women and children, Syrian state television says.

Watch Jonathan Miller’s report from May 21.

It said it was quoting residents inside the city, which is known as Tadmur in Arabic and is home to renowned Roman-era ruins including well-preserved temples, colonnades and a theatre.

Read more: Palmyra historic city 'taken by Islamic State fighters'

It was not immediately possible to verify the account, but it was consistent with reports by activists that the Islamist fighters had carried out executions since capturing the city from government troops.

Opposition activists have said on social media that hundreds of bodies were in the streets of the city after it was seized by the ultra hardline group on Wednesday. They said they were believed to be government loyalists.

“The terrorists have killed more than 400 people.. and mutilated their bodies, under the pretext that they cooperated with the government and did not follow orders,” Syria’s state news agency said, citing residents inside the city.

It added that dozens of those killed were state employees, including the head of nursing department at the hospital and all her family members.

Islamic State supporters have posted videos on the internet they say show fighters going room to room in government buildings searching for government troops and pulling down pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and his father.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in the country with a network of sources on the ground, says that some people were beheaded in the town since it fell but has not given an estimate for the toll among civilians.

It says at least 300 soldiers were killed in the days of fighting before the city was captured.

“A bigger number of troops have disappeared and it is not clear where they are,” Rami Abdulrahman from the Observatory told Reuters.

Footage has been obtained from supporters claiming to be from IS, which purports to show the aftermath of the Syrian regime’s aerial bombing of Palmyra just days after the militants seized the city.

Channel 4 News cannot independently verify this footage:

Meanwhile, a former head of the British Army has called on the government to “think the previously unthinkable” and consider sending ground troops to combat the militants.

‘Lack of commitment’

Lord Dannatt, the former chief of the general staff, said he felt air strikes had “failed” to stop the advance of the extremist organisation and urged parliament to debate deploying up to 5,000 infantry soldiers.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: “In light of this terrifying scenario, how much longer can Britain and the US continue to show such a lack of commitment to defeating IS mililtarily? Their default option of air strikes and limited assistance to indigenous forces has failed thus far.

We can no longer rule out ‘boots on the ground’. Lord Dannatt

“We have now reached a point when we must think the previously unthinkable and consider that British troops, acting as part of an international coalition, may be required to mount a ground campaign in Iraq and Syria.

“I am no gung-ho general who says ‘just send the boys in and don’t worry about the body bags’, far from it, but faced with such a lethal and uncompromising enemy as IS – and with the lack of political and diplomatic solutions at our disposal – we can no longer rule out ‘boots on the ground’.”