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Daesh ambush kills 12 regime fighters in southern Syria

By AFP - Sep 11,2018 - Last updated at Sep 11,2018

Members of the People's Protection Units, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, gather in the town of Shadadi, about 60 kilometres south of the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh, on Tuesday (AFP photo)

BEIRUT — Daesh fighters have killed 12 Syrian regime fighters in an ambush as the group faces separate assaults on its last desert strongholds, a war monitor said on Tuesday.

The attack late Monday in Syria's southern province of Sweida came as US-backed forces advanced against the extremists on the border with Iraq, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It also comes with President Bashar Assad's forces poised to launch an attack on the north-western province of Idlib, the last major region in Syria still controlled by rebels and extremists.

The Daesh ambush in Sweida's volcanic plateau of Tulul Al Safa sparked fighting that killed eight fighters, the Britain-based observatory said.

State news agency SANA reported heavy clashes with Daesh in the area, which lies some 100 kilometres southeast of Damascus, adding that government aircraft and artillery "targeted hideouts and positions" held by the group.

Government forces have been fighting Daesh in Sweida since extremists carried out a wave of attacks in the mainly Druze province on July 25, killing 250 people according to the observatory.

During their rampage, which targeted the provincial capital as well as rural areas, the extremists also seized around 30 hostages, mostly women and their children.

At least 27 are believed to still be held, according to Human Rights Watch, after Daesh said it had beheaded a 19-year-old man and announced an elderly woman had died.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the hostages were believed to be held captive in the Tulul Al Safa area.

A source in Sweida told AFP that families had had no word of their kidnapped relatives in weeks.

Daesh has lost nearly all of the great swathes of territory straddling Iraq and Syria which it seized in 2014, but retains a presence in the vast Badiya desert that lies between Damascus and the Iraqi border, and holds a pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the east.

In that eastern pocket, a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance has for months been closing in on the town of Hajin east of the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border, and on Monday launched an assault to retake it.

In the early hours of Tuesday, the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance advanced inside the town, the observatory said, with backing from the US-led coalition fighting Daesh.

“They have seized control of the north-western part of Hajin” after residents fled, the monitor’s chief Abdel Rahman said.

An SDF commander said the offensive on Hajin aimed to oust an estimated 3,000 extremists, including a large portion of foreign fighters, from the town and surrounding areas.

“Most of the frontline commanders in this pocket are Iraqi,” said Ahmad Abu Khawla, a commander with the Deir Ezzor Military Council, which is part of the SDF.

After humanitarian corridors were opened to allow residents to flee the Daesh-held area, most civilians remaining inside were “directly linked to the group — hostages or the families of Daesh fighters”, he said.

Abu Khawla said Daesh had “secret jails where they hold civilians” captured in other areas of Syria.

Last year Daesh lost its de facto Syrian capital of Raqa in the north of the country, and this spring militants bussed out of the southern suburbs of Damascus.

Since Monday, 27 militants and 10 SDF fighters have been killed in the fighting for the Hajin pocket, the observatory says.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government
protests.

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