Syria conflict: Conflicting accounts of Deir al-Zour attack

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Shattered buildings in Deir al-Zour, January 2013Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Deir al-Zour has been devastated by years of fighting (image from January 2013)

Syrian rebel activists have disputed accounts of mass casualties and abductions in an attack on the eastern city of Deir al-Zour by Islamic State.

Reports by Syrian state media and an opposition monitoring body spoke of hundreds of people being killed and abducted.

However the activists told the BBC there had been no killings or abductions on a large scale.

The IS attack took place on a government-held area on Saturday.

The focus of the reports is the village of Baghiliya, on the north-western outskirts of Deir al-Zour.

Large parts of the city have been besieged by IS for the past year.

At least 135 people were killed in the attack on Deir al-Zour, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - the biggest organisation tracking developments on the ground - reported earlier.

Syrian state media put the toll even higher, saying about 300 civilians had died.

One activist told BBC regional analyst Sebastian Usher that IS went into Baghiliya - an area of farms - with lists of pro-government fighters.

Around 20 were arrested and some killed, he said.

Some families were rounded up by IS and taken away to another area.

However this was not on anything like the scale suggested by the Observatory of 400 family members being abducted.

Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes are reported ot have mounted a counter-offensive.

The UN recently warned of "sharply deteriorating" conditions in parts of Deir al-Zour, one of a number of towns under siege as a result of Syria's five-year civil war.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Russia said it was dropping aid to trapped civilians in Deir al-Zour

What's happening in Syria?

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in almost five years of conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a brutal civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels opposed to his rule battle each other - as well as jihadist militants from Islamic State.

Why are civilians under siege?

All parties to the conflict are using siege warfare, encircling populated areas, preventing civilians from leaving and blocking humanitarian access in an attempt to force opponents to surrender. Shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel have led to malnutrition and deaths among vulnerable groups.

Where are the sieges?

Government forces are besieging various locations in the eastern Ghouta area, outside Damascus, as well as the capital's western suburb of Darayya and the nearby mountain towns of Zabadani and Madaya. Rebel forces have encircled the villages of Foah and Kefraya in the northern province of Idlib, while IS militants are besieging government-held areas in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.