Islamic State kills dozens in southern Syria attacks
A string of Islamic State group attacks, including suicide blasts, killed at least 54 people in southern Syria on Wednesday in one of the group's deadliest assaults in months, a monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blasts hit several areas of the largely regime-held southern province of Suweida, where IS retains a presence in a north-eastern desert region.
The attacks came almost a week into a deadly Russia-backed regime campaign to oust IS fighters from a holdout in a neighbouring province of the country's south.
The raids began when three suicide attackers detonated their explosive belts in Suweida city as other blasts hit villages to the north and east, said the Observatory.
A fourth suicide blast hit the city later.
"IS fighters then stormed villages in the province's northeast and killed residents in their homes," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory.
IS seized three of the seven villages they targeted, he said.
The suicide blasts and attacks have left at least 32 pro-regime fighters and 22 civilians dead, he added, updating an earlier toll.
"The death toll rose after bodies were found in people's homes," Abdel Rahman told AFP.
At least 21 IS militants were also killed.
State media confirmed the attacks had killed and wounded people in Suweida city and villages to the north and east, but did not give a specific toll.
State television said the army was targeting IS in the province's east, and state news agency SANA reported "army units blocked an IS attack on a number of villages in north-eastern Suweida, killing a large number" of the militants.
SANA published images of the aftermath of the attack in Suweida city.
The remains of a victim lay sprawled on a staircase near a damaged wall, while abandoned shoes lay in the middle of the road among fruit that had spilled out of cartons.
Abdel Rahman said unidentified warplanes were also targeting IS fighters in the area.
Despite pro-regime forces ousting the group from urban centres in eastern Syria last year, surprise IS raids in recent months have killed dozens of regime and allied fighters.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has in recent weeks ousted rebels from a majority of the country's south, part of which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
His forces are now closing in on a patch of territory in nearby Daraa province held by jihadist group Jaish Khaled bin al-Walid, which has pledged allegiance to IS.
The group, which has around 1,000 fighters in the region, has been the target of an intense bombing campaign by Russian and Syrian jets in recent days.
SANA said the IS attacks on neighbouring Suweida were an attempt to relieve pressure "on IS remnants facing their inevitable end in the western Daraa countryside".
On Wednesday, Russia-backed regime forces continued their bombardment of the IS-held pocket in Daraa.
At least 41 civilians have been killed in air strikes on the IS holdout since 19 July, the monitor says.
Fierce clashes between the two sides have killed 49 regime fighters and 67 militants.
On Tuesday, a Syrian military source accused Israel of firing at one of its warplanes as it carried out operations against jihadists in southern Syria.
Israel's army earlier said it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet that had infiltrated Israeli airspace, risking another escalation around the sensitive buffer zone.
The Damascus regime has long accused Israel of backing IS and other anti-government factions.
IS overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, declaring a self-styled "caliphate" in territory it held.
The militants have since been ousted from all major urban centres in both countries, but they retain a presence including in desert border areas.
In Syria, IS controls a pocket of the eastern province of Deir az-Zour on the Iraqi border, and is present in parts of the vast central Badiya desert including in Suweida.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.