At least 156 dead in Syria after wave of Islamic State suicide bombings
Despite pro-government forces ousting the group from urban centres in eastern Syria last year, surprise IS raids in recent months have killed dozens of regime and allied fighters
Raids and suicide bombings carried out by Islamic State (IS) in Syria’s southern Sweida province have killed 156 people, including 62 civilians, a war monitor said on Wednesday.
Most of them were killed in raids on villages in the northeast of the province, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The others were killed in suicide attacks in the provincial capital, the monitor said, updating earlier tolls.
The blasts hit several areas of the largely government-held southern province of Sweida, where IS retains a presence in a northeastern desert region.
The attacks came almost a week into a deadly Russia-backed regime campaign to oust IS fighters from a holdout in a neighbouring province of the country’s south.
The raids began when three suicide attackers detonated their explosive belts in Sweida city as other blasts hit villages to the north and east, said the Observatory. A fourth suicide blast hit the city later.
“IS fighters then stormed villages in the province’s northeast and killed residents in their homes,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory.
IS seized three of the seven villages they targeted, he said. At least 21 IS jihadists were also killed.
State television said the army was targeting IS in the province’s east, and state news agency SANA reported “army units blocked an IS attack on a number of villages in northeastern Sweida, killing a large number” of the jihadists.
SANA published images of the aftermath of the attack in Sweida city.
The remains of a victim lay sprawled on a staircase near a damaged wall, while abandoned shoes lay in the middle of the road among fruit that had spilled out of cartons.
Abdel Rahman said unidentified warplanes were also targeting IS fighters in the area.
Despite pro-government forces ousting the group from urban centres in eastern Syria last year, surprise IS raids in recent months have killed dozens of regime and allied fighters.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has in recent weeks ousted rebels from a majority of the country’s south, part of which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
His forces are now closing in on a patch of territory in nearby Daraa province held by jihadist group Jaish Khaled bin al-Walid, which has pledged allegiance to IS.
The group, which has around 1,000 fighters in the region, has been the target of an intense bombing campaign by Russian and Syrian jets in recent days.
SANA said the IS attacks on neighbouring Sweida were an attempt to relieve pressure “on IS remnants facing their inevitable end in the western Daraa countryside”.
On Wednesday, Russia-backed regime forces continued their bombardment of the IS-held pocket in Daraa.
At least 41 civilians have been killed in air strikes on the jihadist holdout since July 19, the monitor says.
Fierce clashes between the two sides have killed 49 regime fighters and 67 jihadists.
On Tuesday, a Syrian military source accused Israel of firing at one of its warplanes as it carried out operations against jihadists in southern Syria.
Israel’s army earlier said it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet that had infiltrated Israeli airspace, risking another escalation around the sensitive buffer zone.
The Damascus regime has long accused Israel of backing IS and other anti-government factions.
IS overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, declaring a self-styled “caliphate” in territory it held.
The jihadists have since been ousted from all major urban centres in both countries, but they retain a presence including in desert border areas.
In Syria, IS controls a pocket of the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor on the Iraqi border, and is present in parts of the vast central Badiya desert including in Sweida.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.