BEIRUT: About 26 pro-government forces based in Syria’s desert died in a surprise attack by the militant Islamic State group on Tuesday, a day after the jihadists’ ouster from the outskirts of Damascus, a monitor said.
“At least 26 regime soldiers and allied forces were killed in an IS attack at dawn today, against one of their posts in the Syrian Badiya,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Among them were Iranian militiamen, said the Britain-based monitor.
The Badiya is a vast desert region stretching from central Syria to the eastern border with Iraq, where IS still holds small pockets.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the attack hit a small base east of Palmyra, the famed ancient city that IS has overrun twice in Syria’s war.
“It began with a car bomb targeting regime forces that set off clashes that are still ongoing,” he said. Five IS fighters were also killed.
“IS fighters launched their attack from a pocket they control in the Badiya, and which was the destination for IS fighters evacuated from southern Damascus on Sunday and Monday,” Abdel Rahman added.
Syria’s government on Monday seized a southern pocket of the capital from IS, announcing that the regime was back in full control of Damascus and its outskirts.
The Observatory, as well as a military source close to the regime, said the capture came after IS fighters were bussed out of the zone to desert territory.
Syrian government forces raised their flag over the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus on Tuesday as state media promoted what it said was the “liberation” of the last quarters of the capital from rebels and IS group militants.
Police motorcycles flying the flag roared into what was left of the neighbourhood in a show for state media, and a detachment of soldiers raised the government’s standard from the roof of what is now a shell of a building.
The ceremonies, broadcast on state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV, was meant to assure residents that Damascus was secure for the first time since protests broke out against President Bashar Assad in 2011. The government cracked down violently on the demonstrations, igniting the ongoing civil war.