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Militants kill more than 60 pro-Syrian government forces: Activist group

Attacks by Islamic State group and former Al-Qaeda affiliate take two-day toll

Militants have killed more than 60 pro-Syrian government forces in two days in the desert in central Syria, an activist group said on Saturday.

Since Thursday, Islamic State (IS) group militants have killed 35 pro-Damascus fighters in government-held parts of central and eastern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The UK-based group monitoring Syria’s conflict described the recent attacks as the deadliest IS offensive since the militant group’s territorial defeat last month.

Pro-government fighters also came under attack on another front of Syria's grinding eight-year war, the Britain-based monitor was cited by AFP as saying. On Saturday, militants linked to Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate attacked loyalists outside the northwestern region of Idlib, killing 26 pro-Assad fighters, it said.

Four senior Syrian officers were killed in the desert in Homs province’s east, the Observatory said, alongside other soldiers and allied militiamen.

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According to the Observatory, the most intense and deadly attack was in the al-Koum area near the ancient oasis city of Palmyra; 15 Syrian soldiers and militiamen died there.

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IS claimed the offensive on Friday in a message on its propaganda arm, Amaq.

The militant group said it had killed 20 Syrian soldiers and wounded others in the al-Sukhna region between Palmyra and eastern Deir Ezzor province during an ambush.

A separate attack near al-Mayadeen city in Deir Ezzor province killed another eight pro-government forces on Thursday, the Observatory said.

Rami Abderrahman, the Observatory’s head, said the offensive was the "biggest attack and the highest death toll among regime forces since the caliphate was declared defeated".

Six IS militants were killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.

Once holding vast territory across Syria and Iraq, which IS labelled a new Islamic “caliphate”, the militant group has been beaten back by Kurdish-led fighters and an international coalition over the past two years.

Pro-Syrian government forces, too, have made inroads against the militants, particularly in Homs and Deir Ezzor provinces.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces militia, backed by US airstrikes, declared last month it had won a territorial victory over IS after expunging militants from their last redoubt in eastern Baghouz.

Now pockets of militants are suspected of hiding out in the vast Syrian desert, known as the Badia, as well as in rebel-held northern Idlib province.

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