Dozens killed in Syria in fierce fighting over supply routes
At least 42 people were killed in 24 hours of fierce fighting between anti-government rebels and Islamic State militants in Syria's Damascus province, a monitoring group said on Wednesday.
"At least 30 Islamist rebels and 12 fighters from IS have been killed in fighting since Tuesday" in the hilly region of Qalamun, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Qalamun is divided into a western portion, which borders Lebanon and is mostly controlled by pro-government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fighters from key ally Hezbollah.
The eastern sector has seen intense clashes between rebels and IS, and is strategic because it borders the "badiya," the Syrian desert plain.
These plains are used by rebels to transport weapons from the Turkish border to the north and the Jordanian frontier in the south.
According to the British-based Observatory, IS has already cut off one of these routes and aims to take more to "suffocate" the rebels.
Government forces have also gone on the offensive yet again pounding the suburbs of the capital Damascus. According to activists, at least 11 people were killed in two neighbouring districts of Harasta and Douma.
"It is likely that there were even more killed in the attack, and the number will increase due to people in a critical condition," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
Strikes in the north-eastern suburb of Harasta, which borders a district named after the ruling Assad family, killed at least nine people, activists said.
To the west of Harasta, a reported government strike in the neighbouring suburb of Douma killed at least two others.
Damascus, which has pockets of strong support for President Assad, has seen repeated government strikes targeting rebel-held suburbs.
Further north in the province of Aleppo, a further 12 people were killed and at least 40 others injured in government aerial attacks on Deir al-Hafir, a town under the control of IS militants.
"There are still people stuck in the buildings after they collapsed," said Abdel Rahman.
Since the army lost control of Idlib city, government forces have been trying to chip away at opposition-controlled parts of the province to protect their supply route.
The bloody conflict in Syria, which began in 2011 as an uprising against the decades-long rule of the Assad family, has now killed more than 200,000 people, according to data from the UN.
Nine million people have been forced from their homes.