'Islamic State' kills 35 Syrian fighters in 'comeback' attack

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has described the assaults as the group's deadliest operation since the fall of the "caliphate." Security analysts say "Islamic State" continues to be a potent fighting force.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Saturday that the "Islamic State" (IS) jihadi group killed at least 35 Syrian government soldiers and allied fighters in attacks over the past two days. According to the monitoring group, four senior army officers were among the dead.

Read more: 'Islamic State' loses significant camp in final holdout territory Baghouz

The IS assault, which began on Thursday, took place in a desert area in the east of Homs province and north of the ancient city of Palmyra. The group carried out a separate attack in neighboring Deir Ezzor province on Thursday night, the Observatory said.

IS reportedly launched the attacks after government forces tried to track down its fighters.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman described the IS operation as the "biggest attack and the highest death toll among regime forces since the 'caliphate' was declared defeated."

Syria's US-backed Kurdish insurgents declared victory over IS almost a month ago. But commanders of the US-led coalition have repeatedly warned that the militant group's loss of their last piece of territory did not mean their elimination as a fighting force.

Read more: IS can still launch attacks in Germany: intelligence chief

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported an attack in Syria's Aleppo city on Saturday. The war monitor said the attack, which was perpetrated by a former al-Qaida affiliate, killed 13 regime fighters.

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DW News | 23.03.2019

Kurdish-led force says IS 'caliphate' defeated in Syria

Reconstruction efforts

Meanwhile, several Russian envoys held meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday to discuss a proposed new constitution and ways to improve the war-torn country's ties with its Arab neighbors.

Read more: Russia plans for new Syria constitution in 18 months

Citing the government, Interfax news agency said that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov was scheduled to meet al-Assad in Damascus later on Saturday to talk about trade cooperation.

The international community has been pushing for political reforms and constitutional changes in Syria to end an eight-year war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced about half of Syria's population of 22 million.

Last year, Syria's opposition agreed to join the process of rewriting a new constitution under UN auspices, following a peacemaking conference in the Russian city of Sochi.

Moscow has been a close ally of al-Assad and in 2015 joined the Syrian war to support government forces.

Read more: Opinion: 'Islamic State' may fall, but will not vanish

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

War with no end

Syria has been engulfed in a devastating civil war since 2011 after Syrian President Bashar Assad lost control over large parts of the country to multiple revolutionary groups. The conflict has since drawn in foreign powers and brought misery and death to Syrians.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The dictator

Syria's army, officially known as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is fighting to restore the president's rule over the entire country. The SAA has been fighting alongside a number of pro-Assad militias such as the National Defense Force and has cooperated with military advisors from Russia and Iran, which back Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The northern watchman

Turkey, which is also part of the US-led coalition against IS, has actively supported rebels opposed to Assad. It has a tense relationship with its American allies over US cooperation with Kurdish fighters, who Ankara says are linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. The Turkish military has intervened alongside rebels in northern Aleppo, Afrin and Idlib province.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The eastern guardian

The Kremlin has proven to be a powerful friend to Assad. Russian air power and ground troops officially joined the fight in September 2015 after years of supplying the Syrian army. Moscow has come under fire from the international community for the high number of civilian casualties during its airstrikes. However, Russia's intervention turned the tide in war in favor of Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The western allies

A US-led coalition of more than 50 countries, including Germany, began targeting IS and other terrorist targets with airstrikes in late 2014. The anti-IS coalition has dealt major setbacks to the militant group. The US has more than a thousand special forces in the country backing the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The rebels

The Free Syrian Army grew out of protests against the Assad regime that eventually turned violent. Along with other non-jihadist rebel groups, it seeks the ouster of President Assad and democratic elections. After suffering a number of defeats, many of its members defected to hardline militant groups. It garnered some support from the US and Turkey, but its strength has been greatly diminished.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The resistance

Fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamists has become its own conflict. The US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. The Kurdish YPG militia is the main component of the SDF. The Kurds have had a tacit understanding with Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The new jihadists

"Islamic State" (IS) took advantage of regional chaos to capture vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Seeking to establish its own "caliphate," IS has become infamous for its fundamentalist brand of Islam and its mass atrocities. IS is on the brink of defeat after the US and Russia led separate military campaigns against the militant group.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The old jihadists

IS is not the only terrorist group that has ravaged Syria. A number of jihadist militant groups are fighting in the conflict, warring against various rebel factions and the Assad regime. One of the main jihadist factions is Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib province and has ties with al-Qaeda.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The Persian shadow

Iran has supported Syria, its only Arab ally, for decades. Eager to maintain its ally, Tehran has provided Damascus with strategic assistance, military training and ground troops when the conflict emerged in 2011. The Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah also supports the Assad regime, fighting alongside Iranian forces and paramilitary groups in the country.

shs/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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