BEIRUT: Syrian government forces seized full control of the last major town in Homs province held by Daesh, Syrian state media reported on Saturday, as the army and its allies press a multi-pronged advance into eastern areas held by the terrorist group.
Syrian state media cited a military source saying Daesh terrorists had been killed and their weapons destroyed at the town of Al Sukhna, some 50 kilometres northeast of the ancient city of Palmyra.
The town is also located some 50 kilometres from the provincial boundary of Deir Al Zor province, Daesh’s last major foothold in Syria and a major target for the Syrian government.
The terrorists have lost swathes of Syrian territory to separate campaigns being waged by government forces backed by Russia and Iran, and by the US-backed Syrian Democratic (SDF) Forces, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia. The SDF is currently focused on capturing Raqqa city from Daesh.
Syrian government forces advancing from the west have recently crossed into Deir al-Zor province from southern areas of Raqqa province.
Daesh controls nearly all of Deir al-Zor province, which is bordered to the east by Iraq. The Syrian government still controls a pocket of territory in Deir al-Zor city, and a nearby military base.
Meanwhile, gunmen early Saturday stormed an office of a Syrian paramedic group that is active in opposition-controlled areas, killing seven of its members and stealing two vehicles and other equipment in a northwestern region, the group and opposition activists said.
The Syrian Civil Defence group, more popularly known as the White Helmets, said in a statement that the attack happened in the early hours in the town of Sarmin.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the rare attack but it came amid tension in the area. Sarmin is in Idlib province, which witnessed clashes recently between Al Qaida-linked fighters and members of the ultraconservative Ahrar Al Sham group that ended with Al Qaida fighters capturing much of the region.
The Al Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham (Levant Liberation Committee) that is also known as HTS said over the past weeks that its members have discovered sleepers cells of the Daesh group who were planning attack. Al Qaida’s affiliate that used by to be known as Nusra Front had fought deadly battles with Daesh over the past years.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven were killed after being shot in the head, adding that the killings were discovered when volunteers from Syrian Civil Defence arrived to start a shift and found the bodies of their colleagues.
“Until now it is mostly likely a crime. It might also be an attack aimed to harm the image of Nusra Front and to show that Idlib is not safe,” said Rami Abdur Tahman who heads the Observatory.
An opposition activist based in Idlib who has been giving information to AP about the province for years said the attackers used pistols equipped with silencers, adding that people living nearby did not notice anything unusual.
The activist, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals, said Daesh sleepers have been discovered in Sarmin. He added that most likely members of Daesh carried out the attack to show that Idlib is not safe.
The activist said the HTS-linked Judicial Committee is investigating the case.
Sarmin used to be a stronghold of Jund Al Aqsa extremist group that clashed with Al Qaida last year before many of its members were allowed to head to areas controlled by Daesh whom they are fighting along now.
The Syrian first-responders have been known to risk their lives to save people from the civil war, now in its sixth year. The White Helmets group was also nominated for last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.