Hassakeh had been a refuge for Christians fleeing earlier ISIS invasion
The Institute for the Study of War has been monitoring the conflicts in Iraq and Syria for some time, and provides a weekly snapshot of several world hotspots in its online situation reports. In early June, the Washington think tank predicted that Ramadan, normally a time of fasting, prayer and repentance for Muslims, would be an active month for the Islamic State group trying to expand the territory of its "caliphate."
"For the past three years, ISIS has conducted major offensive operations during the Ramadan holy month, accomplishing its major annual campaign objectives," ISW wrote. "Its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), had historically also elevated violence in Iraq during Ramadan. ISIS is therefore likely preparing a surge of operations to try to achieve important campaign objectives. … ISIS is likely to begin and end Ramadan with attempted spectacular military offensive actions in Iraq and Syria."
Events being reported Thursday suggest the analysis is on target.
In an audio message Tuesday, an ISIS spokesman urged Sunni Muslims to use the time of piety and dawn-to-dusk fasting during Ramadan to wage jihad and seek martyrdom. Ramadan began June 17 this year.
"Attack them everywhere and shake the ground beneath them," said Abu Muhammad al-Adnani.
ISIS militants are responding to the call, particularly in the Syrian cities of Kobani and Hassakeh.
Militants stormed government-held neighborhoods in the predominantly Kurdish northeastern city of Hassakeh on Thursday morning, capturing several areas of the city, the Associated Press reported, quoting officials and state media.
Hassakeh is the city where many Christians took refuge when ISIS invaded their towns along the Khabour river in the northeast of Syria in February. Scores of Christians were kidnapped at that time, and most have not been heard from since.
This week’s attack came after the Islamic State group suffered several setbacks in northern Syria against Kurdish forces over the past weeks, AP pointed out. The city of Hassakeh is divided between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and Kurdish fighters.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported violent clashes between ISIS and regime forces, with "mutual shelling between the two sides." Initial reports said that ISIS advanced after seizing the two neighborhood of al- Nashwah and al- Shari’ah, the children’s hospital and education college.
Also Thursday, the Islamic State staged a new attack on the Kurdish town of Kobani, which had resisted a months-long assault by the Islamic militants before driving them out in January. Kobani lies along the Syria-Turkey border. Syrian state television said the extremists crossed from the Turkish side of the border into Kobani.