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A file photo of smoke rises after Syrian government airstrikes and shelling hit in Hajar al-Aswad neighbourhood held by IS, southern Damascus, Syria on April 22, 2018.

Monitor: Airstrikes, clashes hit IS pocket in south Syria

Wed, July 11, 2018 13:21

DAMASCUS, July 11, 2018 (News Wires) - Russian airstrikes and fierce clashes on Wednesday rocked a sliver of territory in southwestern Syria held by Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, a war monitor said.

Much of the southern province of Deraa had been quiet since Friday, when a ceasefire between rebels and Syria's regime ended a nearly three-week government assault.

But a local branch of IS, known as Jaish Khaled bin Walid and based in a small area in Deraa's western countryside, was not included in the deal.

Early Wednesday, Russian warplanes began pounding the IS-controlled town of Saham Al Golan, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Russian airstrikes hit Saham Al Golan this morning, as dozens of shells and artillery fire hit the town," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

In retaliation, IS launched an attack southward on Heet, a rebel-held town that recently agreed to return to regime control.

The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources across Syria, gave no immediate death toll for Wednesday's fighting.

"Daesh [IS] stormed Heet, detonated a car bomb and advanced there and are also intensely bombing the nearby village of Zaizun," said Mr Abdel Rahman.

IS claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a suicide car bombing in Zaizun that left 14 fighters dead.

The claim, distributed through an online messaging service, included the first apparent reference to the south as an official IS "province", reflecting its plan to re-establish an Islamic "caliphate" despite its crushing military defeats in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Wednesday's clashes were raging less than 10 kilometres from the armistice line with the Israeli-occupied Golan, and just four kilometres from Jordan.

Anticipating an attack, thousands have fled the IS-held zone in recent days towards the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Around 200,000 displaced people have already sought refuge near the sealed armistice line, according to the United Nations.

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