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IS attack on Syria army bus kills 23 soldiers: monitor

23 soldiers have been killed in war-torn Syria's east, a monitor said on Friday, the deadliest in a new wave of attacks blamed on Islamic State group jihadists.

At least 23 soldiers have been killed in war-torn Syria’s east, a monitor said on Friday, the deadliest in a new wave of attacks blamed on Islamic State group jihadists.

Despite losing their last piece of territory in Syria in 2019, IS has maintained hideouts in the vast Syrian desert from which it has carried out ambushes and hit-and-run attacks.

IS “members targeted a military bus” in Deir Ezzor province on Thursday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as remnants of the jihadist group escalate their attacks.

The latest attack killed “23 soldiers and wounded more than 10 others”, some of whom were in critical condition, said the Britain-based group, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

The Observatory said “dozens of (other) soldiers” were missing after the attack in which the jihadists surrounded the bus and opened fire in Deir Ezzor province’s Mayadeen area, in Syria’s vast Badia desert.

The official Syrian news agency SANA said the “terrorist attack” had caused a number of military casualties, citing an unnamed army source.

Syrian government forces and their allied pro-Iranian armed groups deployed in Deir Ezzor were on high alert on Friday morning, the Observatory reported.

The Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said IS “has recently been escalating its deadly military attacks… aiming to cause as many deaths as possible”.

By doing so, the jihadists are trying to send “a message aimed at showing the group is still active and powerful despite the targeting of its leaders”, he told AFP.

Last week, IS announced the death of its leader, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, who it said was killed in clashes in northwestern Syria.

A spokesman for the group announced a new leader, known as Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, in a recorded message on its channels on the Telegram messaging app.

– Spate of IS attacks –
In March 2019, IS lost the last territory it held in Syria to a Kurdish-led counteroffensive backed by a US-led coalition, but jihadist remnants continue to carry out deadly attacks.

Targets have included civilians and Kurdish-led fighters as well as government troops and allied pro-Iranian fighters.

In recent weeks, IS members have increased their attacks in Syria’s north and northeast.

Thursday’s attack was the third carried out by the jihadists this month alone.

Earlier this week, 10 Syrian soldiers and pro-government fighters were killed in an IS attack in the former jihadist stronghold of Raqa province, the Observatory said.

Last week, the jihadists attacked a convoy of oil tankers guarded by the army in the Syrian desert, killing seven people including two civilians.

And last month, IS claimed responsibility for a rare bombing in Damascus that killed at least six people near the capital’s Sayyida Zeinab mausoleum, Syria’s most visited Shiite pilgrimage site.

The Sunni Muslim extremist group’s brutal rule was marked by beheadings and mass shootings.

IS has had five leaders since it lost the last remnant of the once sprawling “caliphate” it proclaimed across large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014.

Four of them were killed, including the group’s first “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died in a US raid in October 2019.

A civil war first broke out in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad’s government crushed peaceful protests in 2011. It has since drawn in foreign powers and global jihadists.

The conflict has killed more than half a million people and driven half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes, with many seeking refuge in neighbouring Turkey.

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