BEIRUT

Middle East

Gas field clash kills 60 Syrian troops

Residents carry an injured man wounded by what activists claim was a car explosion in central Douma, eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus July 19, 2014. (REUTERS/Yousef Albostany)

BEIRUT: A campaign by the Syrian regime to retake a gas field in the center of the country after ISIS militants killed 270 people has left 60 soldiers dead, a media report said Sunday. Citing a military source, Al-Watan newspaper – which has strong government links – announced the regime had suffered the loss of “60 martyrs.”

The counteroffensive was in its third day Sunday, a security source told AFP.

“Fighting is continuing in the Shaar gas field” in Homs province, the source said, confirming that “the operation is not over.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, which has provided much of the information about the conflict, also said that “violent clashes were continuing in and around the gas field.”

It put the number of regime dead at 65, but added that it was unclear whether they were killed by “friendly fire” resulting from an airstrike on the location, or by ISIS fighters.

Regime forces backed by warplanes had pressed a counterattack Saturday around Shaar, recapturing large areas, said Rami Abdel-Rahman, who heads the Observatory.

The counterattack killed at least 40 militants from ISIS, according to the Observatory.

The watchdog said it had documented “the deaths of 270 people killed in the fighting or executed” by the ISIS jihadists since the seizure.

It described Thursday’s takeover of the Shaar field as the “biggest anti-regime operation by ISIS” since the jihadist group rose to prominence last year in the Syrian conflict.

Pro-regime social media, meanwhile, have voiced criticism of the regime on two fronts since the surprise attack last week.

State media outlets have been practically silent about the developments, sparking anger from people anxious for details and transparency.

One pro-regime Twitter user said: “Thirty martyrs were brought to Homs hospital from the Shaar gas field. ... Homs is still bleeding.”

There was also outrage as information about the number of casualties trickled out, along with demands to identify who was responsible for the lack of adequate protection for the facility and the personnel stationed there.

Deir al-Zor province, meanwhile, has seen a three-way war emerge after recent gains by ISIS, involving the regime, ISIS and local rebel militias.

The Observatory said ISIS fighters killed 12 regime troops, including a colonel and a lieutenant, in fighting Sunday in the village of Ayyash, while in the city of Deir al-Zor regime troops and local rebel militias both suffered casualties in skirmishes in two neighborhoods.

ISIS militants seized large parts of formerly-rebel held Deir al-Zor last week after the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham withdrew from their positions. The Observatory said that another Islamist brigade surrendered its weapons to ISIS, while negotiations were underway for the surrender of two other groups.

In northern Aleppo province, meanwhile, ISIS fighters killed 17 members of Islamist militias in fierce fighting near the village of Ikhtarin, the Observatory said. Pro-opposition media have reported the flight of hundreds of residents from the area in recent days as a result of the fighting.

Also in Aleppo province, ISIS’ campaign against the Kurdish YPG militia caused an unspecified number of ISIS casualties over the weekend, the Observatory said.

In the Damascus suburb of Yalda, Islamist militias made gains against ISIS and killed a religious official from the hard-line group, as well as an unknown number of fighters, in clashes that began late Saturday.

A car bomb ripped through the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma Saturday, killing at least nine people and wounding a number of others. The area has been struck by several car bombs in the past month that killed and wounded dozens.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 21, 2014, on page 8.

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Summary

A campaign by the Syrian regime to retake a gas field in the center of the country after ISIS militants killed 270 people has left 60 soldiers dead, a media report said Sunday.

The Observatory said ISIS fighters killed 12 regime troops, including a colonel and a lieutenant, in fighting Sunday in the village of Ayyash, while in the city of Deir al-Zor regime troops and local rebel militias both suffered casualties in skirmishes in two neighborhoods.

In northern Aleppo province, meanwhile, ISIS fighters killed 17 members of Islamist militias in fierce fighting near the village of Ikhtarin, the Observatory said.

Also in Aleppo province, ISIS' campaign against the Kurdish YPG militia caused an unspecified number of ISIS casualties over the weekend, the Observatory said.


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