In a brazen assault near the Syrian capital, Islamic State on Thursday abducted 300 cement workers and contractors in an area northeast of Damascus, Syrian state media reported as fighting elsewhere in the country also worsened.
Meanwhile, the U.N. special envoy for Syria said the next round of peace talks in Geneva was expected to start next week, around April 13. Staffan de Mistura said the new round should focus on a political process that he hoped would lead to a “concrete or real beginning of a political transition.”
State media said Thursday’s mass abduction of workers from the al-Badia Cement Company took place in Dumeir, an area where terrorists launched a surprise attack against government forces earlier this week. State-run news agency SANA quoted a source in the company as saying that there has been no success in efforts to establish contact with any of the workers.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria conflict, said earlier in the day that contact was lost with dozens of workers in Dumeir.
No further details of the abduction were immediately known and there has been no claim of responsibility. Mass abductions have taken place on occasion in Syria during the country’s devastating civil war, now in its sixth year, most often of religious minorities such as Christians.
The abduction came as fighting with IS raged in northern Syria on Thursday. Syrian opposition fighters have advanced on strongholds of the Islamic State group, including the IS-held town of al-Rai in northern Aleppo along the border with Turkey.