Iraqi government forces met heavy resistance from Islamic State militants in their weeks-old offensive to retake the Anbar provincial town of Fallujah. Two suicide attacks also hit a revered Shi’ite shrine in Damascus.
Iraqi government forces and their Shi’ite militia allies fought to wrest the Anbar province bastion of Fallujah from Islamic State militants Saturday amid conflicting reports on progress.
Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi claimed during a visit to the battle zone Saturday that government forces were advancing along a new front from the west of the city.
He says the Iraqi army’s Eighth Brigade has entered the western districts of Fuleihat and Subeihat and is advancing toward the Bou Alwan bridge.
Fighting raged along three fronts, but government attempts to push into the southern district of Shuhadah appeared to meet heavy resistance, despite government claims that elite counterterrorism units were just 3 kilometers from the city center.
Al-Jazeera TV reported that IS militants had repulsed government forces trying to enter Fallujah from the south. The TV channel also claimed that IS suicide attacks on government forces north of Fallujah had caused heavy casualties. VOA could not independently confirm either report.
Iraqi media showed video of women and children fleeing the city, amid reports of dire sanitary conditions and widespread malnutrition.
In Syria, a pair of suicide attacks rocked the capital, Damascus, Saturday morning, causing numerous casualties, according to state TV. A TV correspondent said one blast, near a market, might have claimed more lives but for the light Ramadan traffic.
Heavy plumes of black smoke engulfed the scene of the first explosion in the Sayeda Zeinab district, as firefighters poured water on blazing wreckage.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Sayeda Zeinab blast, which struck the area near a revered Shi’ite shrine. The district normally has Shi’ite visitors from neighboring Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.
A number of explosions have targeted Sayeda Zeinab during the past several years, threatening to exacerbate already heavy sectarian tensions.