Islamic State fighters abducted 300 cement workers in a surprise attack within 30 miles from Damascus on Thursday. They were employed by the Al Badia Cement company, and were taken from near the town of Dumeir. Syrian government officials confirmed to state media that the company has lost contact with the employees, and that their fates are unknown.
Fierce fighting broke out around Dumeir late on Tuesday night after IS militants assailed government areas northeast of the capital. IS began the advance on Tuesday, with an assault of bomb-laden cars around the Dumeir military airport and another on the nearby Tishrin power station.
On Thursday, opposition sources in the rural eastern suburbs of Damascus told Reuters that large parts of Dumeir, which was already in the hands of squabbling rebel groups, had been captured by the militants. When civilians began protesting against their presence, IS fighters fired into the crowd. Hundreds of families had fled since the militant assault, the sources said.
The kidnapping comes as both Syrian regime forces and rebels are pushing back against IS across northern Syria. This week, the Syrian army and allied forces backed by Russian air strikes forced IS out of al-Qaryatain, which lies between Damascus and the ancient city of Palmyra, which was recaptured by Syrian government forces last week.
Rebel forces are meanwhile advancing on the key Turkish border town of al-Rai in northern Aleppo in an attempt to cut off IS smuggling and supply routes.
Reuters contributed to this report