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More than 200 killed in string of attacks in southern Syria

Fighters belonging to the Islamic State group detonated suicide belts in and around the city of Sweida, activist group says
Syria's official news agency SANA confirmed the attack had killed and wounded people in the provincial capital Sweida (AFP)

A string of suicide and gun attacks in southern Syria claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group has killed more than 200 people in one of the militant group's deadliest operation in months, local officials and a UK-based activist group said.

"Three bombers with explosive belts targeted Sweida city alone, while the other blasts hit villages to the north and east," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Wednesday.

Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the observatory, said the group then followed up with further attacks, seizing three of the seven villages it had targeted.

Ninety-four Syrian government fighters were among the dead, most of whom were residents who had picked up weapons to defend their villages, said the observatory.

Syria's official news agency SANA confirmed the attack had killed and wounded people in the provincial capital.

State television also reported casualties in villages to the north and east, adding that the army was "targeting positions of the Daesh (IS) terrorist group" in Sweida province's eastern countryside.

Sweida Governor Amer al-Eshi said authorities also arrested another attacker. "The city of Sweida is secure and calm now," he told state-run Ikhbariyah TV.

Abdurrahman said unidentified warplanes were also targeting IS fighters in the area.

Surprise raids

Despite pro-government forces ousting the group from urban centres in eastern Syria last year, surprise raids in recent months have killed dozens of government and allied fighters.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad has in recent weeks ousted rebels from a majority of the country's south, part of which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The government controls almost all of Sweida province but IS retains a presence in desert areas of its north and east.

It is now closing in on a patch of territory in nearby Daraa province held by Jaish Khaled bin al-Walid, which has pledged allegiance to IS.

The group, which has around 1,000 fighters in the region, has been the target of an intense campaign of bombing by Russian and Syrian jets in recent days.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group made up mostly of ex-members of the former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, also has a few hundred men in the south.

Israeli jets and artillery on Wednesday attacked a site in Syria from where two rockets were launched which were thought to have landed in the Sea of Galilee, close to beachgoers, the military said.

After air raid sirens sounded in the south of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the army said rockets had been fired from Syria towards Israel. They appeared to be stray fire from the fighting inside Syria.

"In response to the two rockets launched at Israeli territory from Syria, (Israeli) aircraft targeted the rocket launcher. The area surrounding it was targeted by artillery," an Israeli army statement said.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police units were searching in the waters of the Sea of Galilee for remnants of the rockets, although nothing had been found initially.

A Syrian military source accused Israel on Tuesday of firing at one of its warplanes as it carried out operations against IS in southern Syria. 

Israel's army earlier said it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet that had infiltrated Israeli airspace, risking another escalation in the sensitive border zone.

The observatory later said air operations had dramatically decreased following the incident.

The Damascus regime has long accused Israel of backing IS and other opposition factions.

Clashes raged Tuesday between government troops and IS fighters on the northern edges of the border town of Saida, the observatory said.