Middle East

ISIS attacks army-held areas in central Syria

Free Syrian Army fighters are seen in Al-Sukhna in Homs province October 20, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abdel Aziz

BEIRUT: Jihadi group ISIS has seized large parts of a strategically located town in central Syria's Homs province in clashes that killed 48 soldiers and militants, an activist group said Wednesday.

On the Lebanese-Syrian border, meanwhile, Syrian troops and fighters from Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah captured the highest point in the Qalamun region, a Syrian source on the ground said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS militants had captured areas of Al-Sukhnah town and its surroundings in Homs province in fighting since Tuesday night.

The town lies on the highway that leads from eastern Deir al-Zor province, an ISIS stronghold, to the ancient town of Palmyra.

Palmyra is controlled by the regime and home to spectacular Greco-Roman ruins that are listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

"The Islamic State managed to advance in Al-Sukhnah and take control of large parts of the town and the surrounding areas," the Britain-based Observatory said, adding that clashes were continuing Wednesday.

The group said at least 28 regime forces - soldiers and pro-government militants - and 20 IS fighters had been killed in the battles.

More than 100 fighters from the two sides were wounded, the activist group said.

Control of Homs province is divided.

The provincial capital is almost completely under regime control, but opposition forces and IS hold large parts of the surrounding countryside and desert.

IS has a significant presence in the desert region in the east of the province bordering Deir al-Zor, which is a stronghold of the jihadi group and forms part of its self-proclaimed Islamic "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq.

Homs is Syria's largest province and is particularly important for the government as it also neighbours Damascus province.

It is home to the key Shaar gas field, which is now back in government hands after ISIS fighters overran it last year, reportedly slaughtering several hundred soldiers there.





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