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Syrian government takes control of hilltops from IS after US coalition strikes

Control of Jabal Therdah hilltops seen as vital for Syrian government to stop IS militants shooting down aircraft leaving airbase
More than 40 Syrian army personnel killed by mistaken friendly fire from US coalition strikes (AFP)

The Syrian army took control of key strategic hill tops from the Islamic State group on Saturday, after the US-led coalition bombing of its bases yesterday forced the Syrian army to pull back its troops.

Damascus said it launched the attack against the IS militants on Jabal Therdah who had surrounded key government positions.

The US-led coalition confirmed in a statement on Saturday that it had mistakenly bombed a Syrian army airbase, killing dozens of Syrian government troops.

Washington stopped the attack on the airbase after Russia notified coalition commanders that they were bombing a Syrian army airbase.

The Syrian government reacted angrily to the US attacks, saying it was forced to move its troops back from the hilltops overlooking the besieged airbase on the outskirts of the city of Deir az-Zor.

The hilltop is vital for the Syrian government as control of them would enable IS militants to shoot down Syrian air-force aircraft taking off from the airbase.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 30 IS militants were killed in the army's counter-attack.

The UK-based monitoring group said 90 soldiers were killed in Saturday's air strike, sharply higher than the death toll of 62 given by Moscow on Saturday.

The leader of former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), previously known as al-Nusra Front, on Saturday warned that the “US had surrendered to Assad".

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, who leads JFS, said that last week’s ceasefire was done in a bid to keep the rebel groups “fighting the regime to surrender”.

He also told Al-Jazeera that the ceasefire deal agreed between the US and Russia that came into effect last week meant the two were effectively on the same side.

"With this deal, the US has put itself in the same boat as the Russians and the regime. The US and UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura are yielding to Assad," said Jolani.

Jolani also called on opposition rebel groups to unite in order to represent all Sunnis in Syria militarily and politically.

JFS, which is deeply embedded in rebel-held areas and fights alongside more moderate groups, broke with al-Qaeda in July, in a move sanctioned by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and rebranded itself.

The US and Russia have said that If the ceasefire lasts seven days and humanitarian access is granted to besieged areas they will work together to target JFS and IS.