IS fighters attack government-held areas in central Syria

49 killed in Syria clashes

49 killed in Syria clashes

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 52 people, civilians and fighters on both sides, had been killed and dozens injured.

A total of 27 pro-government militiamen and villagers, four Bedouin and 26 IS militants were killed in the violent clashes in Hama's eastern countryside - the worst seen since a similar bloodbath there two years ago, the monitor added. In 2015, Islamic State killed 46 civilians in a nearby town, the Observatory said.

SANA said regime forces prevented IS from advancing deeper into the valley, while the remaining fighters fled to the desert.

The Observatory, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said that at least 15 of those killed were civilians, five of them children, and that three of them died in execution-style killings.

IS has attacked Mabuja before, murdering 37 civilians in the village which is made up of Sunnis, Ismailis and Alawites.

"The regime bombarded that village", he said. It identified residents as members of President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.

IS faces pressure in northern Syria, where an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters is preparing an assault on its bastion Raqa city.

USA -backed Iraqi forces have been chipping away at the remaining districts of Mosul under Islamic State control, seven months into a campaign to recapture Iraq's second largest city.

A second defence official told AFP the forces in the convoy appeared to have been Shia militia.

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It said the Syrian warplanes struck IS positions in central Syria, following the attack.

The ISIS-linked Aamaq news agency said the militants captured villages of Aqareb al-Safi and Mabouja.

Control of central Hama province is divided between Syria's government, rebel forces and IS, which is present mostly in the east of the area.

The coalition said the strike had occurred "well inside" an established de-confliction zone northwest of the Al-Tanaf garrison, where British and United States commandos have been training and advising local forces fighting IS.

The first official said the convoy was "significant" in size, but only the lead vehicles were hit. Turkey views the U.S-backed Kurdish fighters as an extension of its own insurgent group.

Meanwhile, Turkey yesterday called for the removal of the USA diplomat coordinating the worldwide coalition fighting the Islamic State group, accusing him of backing Syrian Kurdish militias.

Last month, the US fired 59 missiles at a government air base in central Syria as punishment for a chemical attack blamed on Assad's forces that killed almost 90 people.

The conflict has proved stubbornly resistant to worldwide efforts to find a political solution, but a new round of UN-sponsored talks are underway this week in Geneva.

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