Syria launches counter-offensive against rebels

Syria launches counter-offensive against rebels
File photo of Syrian Government military forces in the field, 2013.

Syrian government forces have launched a counter-attack to recapture a gas field seized by Islamic extremists, activists said, as the death toll from three days of fighting there rose to more than 200.

The fighting in the Shaer field, in the desert region of Palmyra in the central province of Homs, has been among the deadliest battles between government forces and the Islamic State group since the start of the Syrian uprising more than three years ago.

Fighters from the Islamic State have in the past few weeks seized a huge chunk of territory straddling the Iraq-Syria border, where they declared a self-styled caliphate. They have captured much of Syria’s oil-rich eastern province of Deir el-Zour.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian special forces launched an attack late last night on the Shaer field and regained parts of it.

A Homs-based activist who goes by the name of Beibares Tellawi confirmed that troops attacked fighters from Islamic State.

“The fighting today is mostly hit-and-run attacks,” Mr Tellawi said by Skype. “Large numbers of (president Bashar) Assad’s forces are attacking the field.”

The Observatory said the number of troops, guards and workers killed in the gas field since it was captured on Thursday has risen to 270, adding that some were captured and killed by militants. Mr Tellawi said the death toll was at least 200.

The Observatory said yesterday’s clashes alone left 51 soldiers dead or wounded. It said 40 Islamic State fighters have been killed, while Mr Tellawi said the number is more than 30.

The fate of 90 gas field workers and guards is still unknown, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria.

In the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma, a car bomb exploded today, killing at least nine people and wounding others, the Observatory said. The area has been struck by several car bombs in the past month that killed and wounded dozens.

The Observatory and Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist in the southern province of Daraa, also reported intense shelling and air raids by government forces in the region that borders Jordan.

Syria’s state news agency Sana said the army “hit terrorist dens”, killing and wounding scores of militants in several villages and towns in Daraa, including the villages of Tafas, Inkhil, Atman and Dael.

An unnamed Jordanian military official quoted by Jordan’s state news agency said that border guards have received 411 Syrian refugees over the past three days. The official said 46 were seriously wounded and were admitted to field hospitals, and that 12 died.

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