Islamic State (ISIS) militants on Tuesday claimed responsibility for two ambushes on Syrian forces in the desert regions of Palmyra and Homs, the latest in a string of jihadist attacks which have killed up to 70 regime troops in the last month alone.
Despite its territorial defeat in Baghouz, Deir ez-Zor province on March 23, ISIS still maintains a significant presence in Syria’s central deserts, spanning an area of some 4,000 square kilometers, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Damascus has boosted its troop presence in the region to counter the ISIS threat.
However, on April 30, ISIS announced on its Telegram channel it had killed six regime troops and injured four more in two separate ambushes in Palmyra and Homs.
The first took place on the Oweiridh road in Palmyra on April 29. In the ensuing clashes, three Syrian soldiers were killed and two injured. There are no reports of jihadist casualties.
The second took place on the road leading to the al-Aatshana barracks in the desert hinterlands of Homs. There, ISIS says it targeted a vehicle transporting Syrian troops, killing three and injuring two.
ISIS attacks in the area have surged in recent weeks, according to SOHR and pro-regime media.
“Military situation in central Syria is not good. ISIS is carrying out ambushes nearly every night. ISIS killed over 70 soldiers in the month of April alone. This is the highest total of any month this year,” Leith Aboufadel, founder of the pro-Damascus al-Masdar news agency, tweeted Wednesday.
Al-Masdar reported Tuesday that ISIS had killed at least 10 Syrian troops in an ambush in the eastern countryside of Homs near the town of al-Sukhnah, where the group has a large presence.
Eight more soldiers were captured alive but later executed, al-Masdar reported, and as many as 40 troops have been killed since April 19 alone.
Attacks are concentrated along the highway between Palmyra and al-Sukhnah, two desert cities.
The ancient city of Palmyra was retaken from ISIS by regime forces and their Russian backers in 2016 – but not before several of its archeological treasures were destroyed.
From March 24 to April 20, no less than 69 Syrian soldiers and pro-Damascus militiamen have been killed, according to SOHR.
On April 21, ISIS seized the mountain town of al-Kawm in Raqqa governorate, killing 15 Syrian soldiers, Al-Masdar reported, corroborated by SOHR.
Raqqa was the de facto capital of the so-called ISIS caliphate before it was retaken in a coalition backed operation in 2017.
The group’s return to insurgency tactics has also been observed in Iraq, where the group was declared territorially defeated in December 2017.
ISIS militants have taken shelter in the demarcation line between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces in the disputed territories. Here too it has resorted to hit-and-run attacks, assassinations, and the execution of alleged informants.
ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first video appearance in almost five years on Monday, flouting earlier claims he had been killed in an airstrike.