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IS-linked group seizes village in south Syria

Syria regime air strikes have sought to recapture Daraa province [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 July, 2018

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An Islamic State group affiliate took control of Heet, near the Jordanian border, despite Russian and regime air strikes against them.

An Islamic State group affiliate seized a village in southern Syria overnight from rebels who had agreed to a regime takeover, a Britain-based war monitor said on Thursday.

Much of the southern province of Daraa had been quiet since Friday, when a ceasefire deal between rebels and the Russian-backed regime ended a nearly three-week regime assault.

But Jaish Khaled bin Walid, a local IS branch that controls a small corner in the southwest of the province, on the border with Jordan and close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is not included in that deal.

Overnight into Thursday, the jihadists took control of the village of Heet near the Jordanian border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

"After violent clashes, Jaish Khaled bin Walid took control of Heet despite Russian and regime air strikes against them," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Read more: After Daraa, will Assad reconquer all of Syria?

Fighting since Wednesday has left 16 rebels and 12 jihadists dead including two suicide bombers, he said.

Since 19 June, the regime has been pressing military and negotiation efforts to retake the whole of Daraa and the adjacent Quneitra province from the opposition.

A government victory in the strategic area bordering Jordan and the occupied Golan Heights would be symbolic, as it is seen as the cradle of the seven-year uprising.

The regime now controls more than 80 percent of Daraa province, the Observatory says, though some parts of its western countryside remain under opposition control.

On Thursday, witnesses saw Syrian state vehicles, accompanied by Russian military police, enter an area of Daraa city to raise the Syrian flag, Reuters reported.

President Bashar al-Assad's regime has retaken more than 60 percent of the country since 2015, when Russia intervened militarily to bolster it.

Syria's civil war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 when the regime responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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