The al Qaeda breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant captured a key Syrian town near the Iraq border from other rebels on Tuesday, July 1, and advanced toward a stronghold of its main jihadi rivals, an activist group said, according to the Associated Press.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Boukamal fell to the militants early Tuesday following days of battles between the group and other factions led by the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate.
The Observatory, which has a network of activists around Syria, said the Islamic State brought in reinforcements from Iraq during the fighting.
The latest victory by the jihadi group, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq, came two days after it declared the establishment of a transnational Islamic caliphate. The group says its Islamic state stretches from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala northeast of Baghdad, and has called on all Muslims worldwide to pledge allegiance to it.
The Observatory said the Islamic State released more than 100 detainees it was holding in the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab after the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, issued an amnesty on the occasion of establishing the self-styled caliphate.
Last week, beleaguered Nusra Front fighters defected and joined the Islamic State in Boukamal —effectively handing over the town to the powerful group, which controls the Iraqi side of the crossing.
The Observatory said the Islamic State is advancing toward the town of Shuheil, northwest of Boukamal, a Nusra Front stronghold believed to be the hometown of its leader, a Syrian known as Abu Muhammed al-Golani.
Up to 7,000 people, the majority of them fighters, have been killed in the rebel-on-rebel violence across the opposition-held territory in northern and eastern Syria since January, according to the Observatory's tally, which is compiled by its activists on the ground.
Meanwhile, according to the AP, hopes for the quick formation of a new Iraqi government were dashed Tuesday when the first session of parliament failed to make progress and was forced to disband after less than two hours when minority Sunnis and Kurds walked out.
Acting speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh ended the proceedings after most of the 328-member legislature's Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers did not return following a short break, depriving parliament of a quorum. The entire session, from the opening national anthem to al-Hafidh's final words, lasted less than two hours.
Al-Maliki, who has held the post since 2006, has come under intense pressure to step aside. Sunnis and Kurds, both of whom accuse al-Maliki of breaking promising and attempting to monopolize power, are demanding that he be replaced.
Sunni lawmaker Hamid al-Mutlaq said the Sunnis walked out of Tuesday's parliament session because they feel they need more time to reach a "serious understanding with others on how to run this country and change the course that has led the country to the current disaster."