BEIRUT: An ambush by the Islamic State jihadist group has killed 21 regime fighters in Syria’s southern province of Sweida, a Britain-based war monitor said on Tuesday.
The attack occurred late Monday in the rural Tulul al-Safa area of the province, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Eight jihadists were also killed in subsequent clashes in the area, which is the jihadists’ last bastion in Sweida, the Observatory said.
State news agency SANA reported heavy clashes with IS in the area, adding that government aircraft and artillery “targeted hideouts and positions” held by the group.
Government forces have been fighting IS in Sweida’s arid plains since jihadists 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 jihadists 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 IS 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.
IS 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 desert that lies between Damascus and the Iraqi border, and holds a pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the east.
A Kurdish-Arab alliance launched an assault on the pocket’s main town of Hajin on Monday with support from the US-led coalition fighting IS.