Militant Attacks Kill Syrian Soldiers

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian government forces came under separate attacks from Islamic State militants and al-Qaida-linked insurgents in different parts of the country that killed nearly 50 soldiers and allied fighters, activists and a war monitoring group said Saturday.

In one attack, IS militants ambushed Syrian government forces in the desert of central Homs province Thursday night, setting off two days of clashes that killed 27 soldiers, including four officers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A pro-government militia, known as Liwa al-Quds, confirmed the ambush, saying it had sent its fighters to liberate the two besieged battalions, made up of nearly 500 soldiers, east of the town of al-Sukhna.

In a Facebook post, the militia said it successfully broke the siege and liberated the surviving soldiers before pulling the bodies of those killed and damaged vehicles to safety.

Liwa al-Quds, one of the elite militias operating side by side with government troops, didn't give a casualty figure. It said the besieged battalions were out in desert looking for an army division that disappeared in the area over the last few days.

The Islamic State group lost its last territories in Syria in March after months of battles with U.S-backed Kurdish-led fighters in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. But the militants remain active in the desert to the west of Deir el-Zour, where they have taken refuge and increasingly targeted government troops and allied militia.

The militant group, which once controlled large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has kept a network of sleeper cells active in both countries. It has also kept up its media operations. The IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency reported the attack east of al-Sukhna, saying that in 24 hours of clashes its militants killed nearly two dozen Syrian soldiers and officers. It said the militants also seized Syrian government ammunition and vehicles.

Separately, government forces came under an attack from insurgents of al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahir al-Sham in northwest Syria, where a cease-fire is supposed to be in place.

The Observatory said the insurgents assaulted the government positions west of Aleppo early Saturday, killing 21 soldiers and allied fighters. Baladi news, an activist-operated news site, said the attack in Akrab village killed 27 soldiers, quoting an HTS operative. Akrab overlooks the Aleppo-Damascus highway.

A cease-fire was reached in the area in September but is increasingly tested. The area includes the last major stronghold of the armed opposition.

The cease-fire was negotiated by Russia and Turkey, who support opposite sides of the conflict but who have closely coordinated their policies.