Executive Summary for August 14th

We review the key developments in Syria, including pro-government forces capturing the last ISIS stronghold in Homs, rebels killing 20 troops in a tunnel blast outside Damascus and unknown gunmen slaying seven White Helmet volunteer rescue workers in Idlib.

Published on Aug. 14, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Government Captures ISIS-Held Town in Homs

The Syrian government recaptured the last stronghold of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Homs province on Saturday, Reuters reported.

The army and allied forces recaptured the militant-held town of al-Sukhna, 30 miles (50km) away from the provincial border of Deir Ezzor – one of the last major ISIS strongholds in Syria.

The capture of al-Sukhna was originally announced on August 5 but ISIS counterattacks this week have undermined the government’s hold over the area.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHRsaid on Wednesday that at least 39 Syrian troops, including three senior officers, had been killed by car bombs and land mines planted by ISIS in several positions in the eastern Homs desert, including the town of al-Sukhna.

Reuters said on Saturday that ISIS militants in the area had been killed and their weapons destroyed.

Citing SOHRAl Jazeera said on Sunday that at least 25 ISIS militants were killed in a commando operation in the eastern desert region of Homs. Syrian troops reportedly “rappelled down from helicopters to ambush the fighters, under the cover of Russian airstrikes,” according to Al Jazeera.

The capture of the town, which is located on the main desert highway between the ancient town of Palmyra and Deir Ezzor, will facilitate government advances toward ISIS bastions in eastern Syria.

According to Reuters, pro-government forces advancing from the west have already crossed into Deir Ezzor from southern areas of Raqqa province.

Dozens of Syrian Troops Killed in Damascus Tunnel Blast

Dozens of Syrian troops were killed in a tunnel blast outside the capital Damascus before dawn on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

The Failaq al-Rahman group, one of the strongest opposition factions in the Eastern Ghouta region, said that it had killed at least 20 troops in the operation, according to the AP.

At least 16 soldiers have been reported missing because of the blast, the AP also reported, citing SOHR.

Sunday’s attack comes against the backdrop of heightened government attacks on the last rebel enclave in Damascus.

Shelling and airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta have increased since last week and the bombardment is at its heaviest since the government launched an offensive to reclaim the region two months ago.

Ongoing clashes between the opposition factions and pro-government forces have effectively nullified a cease-fire agreed last month between President Bashar al-Assad and Eastern Ghouta’s rebel groups.

Seven White Helmet Rescue Workers Shot Dead in Idlib

Seven Syrian rescue workers, also known as the White Helmets, were killed on Saturday when gunmen stormed one of the group’s offices in Idlib province, the Associated Press reported.

The seven members of Syrian Civil Defense were killed after being shot in the head in the early hours of Saturday in the town of Sarmin, the AP said, citing SOHR.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack but it came a few weeks after al-Qaida-linked militants captured the only province in Syria under full rebel control.

An unnamed opposition activist told AP that he believed that ISIS was behind the attack. He said that ISIS sleeper cells have been discovered in the town and added that the attack was likely carried out to show that Idlib is not safe.

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