In Brief

Islamic State 'kidnaps 400 civilians' after mass slaughter in Syrian city

Reports say militant group abducted families while rumours continue that hundreds have been taken hostage in major offensive

Islamic State militants are reported to have kidnapped up to 400 civilians following a massacre in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor that left at least 150 people dead.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 85 civilians and 50 government soldiers were among the dead after jihadists using suicide bombs and cars loaded with explosives stormed the town on Saturday. Once inside Deir al-Zor, they are reported to have executed family members of the armed forces.

While the exact death toll is as yet unclear, Syria's state news agency Sana quoted residents saying up to 300 people had been killed. If confirmed, that would make it one of the highest death tolls for a single day in nearly five years of civil war.

Reuters reports scores of civilians have also been kidnapped, with one monitoring group suggesting the figure could be as high as 400.

"The legal and moral responsibility for this barbaric and cowardly massacre... lies on the shoulders of all the states that support terrorism," said Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has consistently cast itself as the main aggressor against Islamic extremism in Syria and independent sources in Deir al-Zor suggested the government-cited higher death toll was symptomatic of its need to cast IS as the most dangerous force inside the country.

"The regime is trying to manipulate the media with this report of IS's crimes," Omar Abu Lila, the director of independent news outlet Deir Ezzor 24, told the Daily Telegraph.

Gaining accurate casualty figures for the war in Syria has been an "ongoing challenge" throughout the conflict due to "the lack of reliable independent witnesses on the ground", says The Independent.

Deir al-Zor, close to the border with Iraq, is seen as a crucial strategic target in the fight against IS, linking the group's territory in Iraq with its self-styled capital in Raqqa. It has also been the scene of heavy fighting between government forces and rebel factions in recent weeks.

The home front

On Saturday, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said about 600 Britons had been stopped from going to Syria to fight for IS over the past year or so.

Also this weekend, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, suggested the British government should keep some form of diplomatic back-channel open to IS in order "to help move towards a political solution in Syria".

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the politician said it was clear some Middle Eastern countries were already in touch with the militant group. During conflicts with the Taliban and the IRA, the UK had kept back-channels open, he saiid. 

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