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Head of UN Panel on Syria Calls IS 'Desperate'

An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

The Islamic State group appears "desperate" and is losing ground to Kurdish fighters who are battling the radicals "on behalf of humanity," the head of a U.N. panel on Syria said Thursday.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of a U.N. Human Rights Council investigative panel on Syria, made the comments to The Associated Press after it issued a new report on Syria's civil war. It said the Islamic State group has resorted to tactics like hit-and-run attacks and suicide car bombings after losses to Kurds backed by U.S.-led coalition air power.

"I think they are desperate, because they are losing ground," Pinheiro said of Islamic State, noting its recent gains and losses. "I think at this moment they continue to win in psychological terms, in attracting the youth from Europe and those kinds of countries. But in fact in terms of war in the territory, they are beginning to feel the pressure."

But U.S. intelligence officials said this summer that even though more than 10,000 extremist fighters have been killed, the Islamic State group is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began a year ago. The radical group controls vast swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq.

The panel's report — the 10th of its kind — offered few major new insights into the grinding 4-year conflict, with "no end in sight." Commission members said this edition is highlighting the immense suffering of Syrian civilians, including some 250,000 who have been killed.

"Civilians are suffering the unimaginable as the world stands witness," Pinheiro told a news conference.

Tactics such as encircling populated areas have caused starvation, malnutrition and chronic illness among besieged residents, the report said. It alleged abuses by several sides, including President Bashar Assad's forces, Islamic State and al-Qaida-backed Nusra Front.

The report is based on 335 interviews with victims and witnesses collected from January to July 2015. It is to be presented to the Human Rights Council meeting on Sept. 21.

Pinheiro called on governments to stop shipping weapons to the warring sides but he refused to identify suppliers, saying that was not the panel's role.

The panelists lamented that the Security Council has not authorized the appointment of an international war crimes prosecutor. Permanent council member Russia, which has backed Assad's government, has blocked attempts to strengthen international action.