The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing on Tuesday in southern Syria that killed more than a dozen soldiers and pro-government fighters, Star Tribune reports. The IS-linked Aamaq news agency carried the claim for the attack in the southern village of Zeizoun, which was captured by government forces this week as part of a major offensive against rebels in southern Syria. Zaizun lies near a sliver of southern territory controlled by Jaish Khaled bin Walid, a jihadist faction that has pledged allegiance to IS, and which is not bound by the deal between the rebels and the government.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that closely monitors the civil war, said the attack left 14 soldiers and pro-government gunmen dead.
“At least 14 regime and opposition fighters who recently reconciled were killed in a suicide car bomb attack targeting a military position in Zaizun,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, giving an updated toll.
The attack came as government forces continued to mass troops on Wednesday ahead of an attack on the Yarmouk Basin region, which is controlled by the IS-linked Khaled bin Al-Waleed Army.
According to Times of Israel, IS claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on the Telegram messaging app, saying the car driven by a suicide bomber had been packed with explosives. Abdel Rahman said it was likely that this faction was responsible for the attack, adding it was the first suicide bombing targeting regime forces since they launched an offensive on Daraa. Backed by Russia, Syrian troops began a bombing blitz of Daraa province on June 19 that killed dozens of civilians and displaced more than 320,000 people.
The onslaught came to an end on Friday, when Moscow brokered a deal with rebels for them to surrender their weapons and hand over towns to government troops. The agreement also provides for safe passage for thousands of opposition fighters and civilians to rebel territory further north, although those transfers have not yet begun. The regime is now in control of around 80 percent of Daraa province, while rebels hold around 15%, according to the Observatory.
Anticipating a regime attack, thousands of people have fled the IS-held zone in the past two days heading toward the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Around 200,000 displaced people have already sought refuge along that frontier, which remains sealed, according to the United Nations.
“After finishing off rebel forces in the south, the regime is expected to attack the last pocket held by the IS affiliate there,” said Abdel Rahman.
Government forces have not yet begun their assault but rebels nearby hit the IS-held area with artillery and mortars late Monday, Daily Star adds. Meanwhile Syrian state news agency SANA on Tuesday said four other villages northwest of Daraa were expected to seal deals with the government on Wednesday, citing unspecified “reports.”
Rebels and Islamist forces killed more than two dozen pro-government fighters in a joint attack in a northwestern stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a monitor said on Tuesday. In retaliation, the government and its ally Russia pounded rebel-held areas in the coastal province of Latakia and neighbouring Idlib on Tuesday, killing four civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It was the bloodiest opposition assault on the area in three years, according to the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside the country. The surprise offensive late Monday targeted a pair of villages and observation points in Latakia, near the Turkish border.
“At least 27 regime forces and allied fighters, including eight officers, were killed in fierce clashes and shelling in the village of Al-Ateira,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.