The site of one of the explosions in Suwayda city on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of SANA.
AMMAN: A ground offensive and series of suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) killed at least 150 people in Druze-majority Suwayda on Wednesday, in the “most violent” IS attack on the government-held province since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Islamic State fighters launched a ground offensive on several villages in the eastern Suwayda countryside early Wednesday morning, followed by at least two suicide bombing attacks in the provincial capital.
IS officially claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks.
At least 150 people have been killed and 176 injured across Suwayda province since Wednesday morning, according to reports by SOHR and local pro-opposition news outlet Suwayda 24. Pro-government fighters and civilians were among the dead.
Noura al-Basha, a local journalist reporting from Suwayda province, told Syria Direct that the IS attack on villages in eastern Suwayda province began at 6:30 am Wednesday morning.
IS fighters reportedly seized control of three of seven villages that they had attacked on Wednesday morning, SOHR reported.
According to al-Basha, local fighters then staged a counter-offensive in collaboration with Druze militiamen from the “Men of Dignity”—the largest armed group in the province.
There had been no support from Syrian pro-government forces, she said.
A local fighter in Suwayda province on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Suwayda News Network.
However, Syrian state news agency SANA reported that the Syrian army led the counter-attack with support from local armed groups.
Fighting between IS and pro-government fighters continued throughout the day.
The Syrian government is in control of the vast majority of Suwayda province with the exception of a small pocket in the eastern Badia desert region that is currently held by the Islamic State.
In May, a small contingent of Islamic State fighters holding out in the south Damascus suburbs were bussed to the Badia region in an evacuation deal brokered with the Syrian government, following a gruelling pro-government offensive on IS positions in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp and neighbouring Hajar al-Aswad.
According to local pro-opposition news outlet Suwayda 24, several identity cards of IS fighters killed during Wednesday’s attacks on Suwayda province traced them to south Damascus. Syria Direct could not independently verify the claim.
Suwayda is Syria’s southernmost province, and home to most of the country’s Druze minority. Though officially under government control, much of Suwayda’s civil and military authority comes from within. A host of homegrown political and military factions hold sway inside the Druze-majority province, mainly focused on defending it from outside attackers.
Suwayda’s Druze political leadership remains largely neutral and focused on internal affairs.