Death toll of IS attacks in Syria's Sweida rises to 215

April FrancisJul 28, 2018

Mourners in southern Syria attended mass funerals Thursday for least 216 people killed in coordinated attacks by Islamic State fighters on a usually peaceful city and surrounding countryside.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

Hezbollah said that the terrorist attacks "show that regional and worldwide forces continue to use these criminal gangs to achieve their malicious and aggressive goals".

The overwhelming majority of the dead "were in (Sweida's) northern countryside, where the bodies of civilians executed inside their homes were found", Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

For the southern offensive, government forces redeployed troops from Sweida province last month to attack rebels and IS-affiliated militants in the nearby provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

But this month it became a new front for advancing Syrian forces after they re-established their authority over most of neighboring Daraa province.

Video footage broadcast by Syria's state-run television network on Friday showed the hospital at the Quneitra Crossing and in close proximity to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Syria's Druze minority makes up around three per cent of the population. At least 45 jihadists died carrying it out, the Observatory said.

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Despite pro-government forces ousting the group from urban centres in eastern Syria past year, surprise raids in recent months have killed dozens of regime and allied fighters.

Islamic State was driven from almost all the territory it once held in Syria previous year in separate offensives by the Russian-backed army and a US-backed militia alliance.

The others killed were pro-government fighters or residents who had taken up arms to defend their villages.

In a meeting with Russia's special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev in Damascus on Wednesday, Assad lashed out at the states that are backing terrorist groups in Syria.

The militants launched their offensive with a spate of suicide bombing attacks in the city of Sweida in the early hours of Wednesday, including one at a busy vegetable market that left a scene of devastation.

News websites in Sweida alleged that some of the jihadists who took part in Wednesday's attack had been given safe passage out of Yarmuk.

A Syrian military source accused Israel on Tuesday of firing at one of its warplanes as it carried out operations against IS in southern Syria. More airstrikes against ISIS-held towns were reported after this attack.

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