BEIRUT: Syria’s air force launched more than two dozen strikes against the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa Sunday, killing 31 militants and eight civilians, an anti-regime monitoring group said.
Meanwhile, the Al-Qaeda splinter group pursued its bloody crackdown on members of the Sheaitat tribe in next-door Deir al-Zor province, where hundreds of people have been killed or taken prisoner.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 17 airstrikes targeted ISIS-held buildings and other locations in the city of Raqqa, such as the former Military Justice and Political Security headquarters, along with two hospitals and a bus terminal.
Another 11 airstrikes targeted areas in and around the city of Tabqa, further up the Euphrates River, where ISIS fighters are closing in on what is believed to be the regime’s sole remaining military presence in the province.
At least 15 civilians and an unknown number of ISIS fighters were wounded in the strikes, some critically, the Observatory said.
Syrian state media usually decline to mention operations by the country’s air force against insurgents, but pro-regime media outlets alluded to the airstrikes.
In Deir al-Zor province further east, five airstrikes targeted ISIS positions, the Observatory said, although there was no word on casualties. Some of the strikes targeted the Omar oil field, which is controlled by ISIS.
In the city of Deir al-Zor, an attack by ISIS fighters on a regime-held neighborhood killed a number of soldiers, it added.
The regime also targeted ISIS-held locations in northern Aleppo province with 10 airstrikes on ISIS-held areas, but there were no details on the death toll in the raids.
The Observatory said that throughout the country, a total of 122 airstrikes – 84 attacks by warplanes and 38 helicopter-delivered “barrel bombs” – pummeled areas held by rebel groups and jihadists from ISIS. Around half of the warplane strikes, 43, were directed at ISIS-held locations, it said.
ISIS fighters also skirmished with Islamist and Kurdish rebel militias in northern Aleppo province, where the Al-Qaeda splinter group has made gains in recent days. The Observatory said the rebels were clashing with ISIS at the entrance to the town of Ikhtarin, and were bringing reinforcements to the area.
ISIS has also advised residents of a handful of villages in the northern part of the province it seized in recent days to vacate the area “for their safety,” the Observatory said.
The group declared it would pursue its campaign against “sahwat,” or anti-Al-Qaeda groups, throughout the province and advised residents of the city of Aleppo to avoid approaching locations held by the “sahwat,” which it called legitimate military targets.
Residents of the Tariq al-Bab neighborhood in Aleppo told the Observatory that they discovered posters in the area, featuring the slogan “ISIS is coming.”
In rural Deir al-Zor, after an armed rebellion by some members of the Sheaitat tribe erupted last month, ISIS has struck back with a vengeance, killing more than 700 people – overwhelmingly civilians – in the last two weeks as part of its response, the Observatory said on Saturday.
Most of the victims were from three villages where the Sheaitat is dominant. ISIS Saturday released around 60 members of the tribe but dozens of others are believed to remain with the group as prisoners.
Sheaitat tribal elders Friday issued a statement, posted to YouTube, in which they disavowed connections to anyone engaged in fighting ISIS and pledged their allegiance to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Pro-opposition sources and media outlets have spoken of splits in the Sheaitat tribe, as well as the “treachery” of smaller tribes in the areas when the anti-ISIS uprising broke out last month. They said that members of other tribes looted property belonging to the tribe after the wave of arrests by ISIS began.
An anti-regime activist in Deir al-Zor indicated that while the Sheaitat tribal uprising was being suppressed by ISIS, clandestine attacks on the group were continuing nonetheless, as a part of a loosely organized underground resistance movement.
The activist said one such attack Sunday targeted a vehicle carrying ISIS fighters on a road between Deir al-Zor and the village of Suwar. The rebels, loosely affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, targeted the vehicle with an RPG and killed six militants, including an Egyptian field commander, the activist said.
On other fronts in the country, an alliance of rebels and jihadists were inching closer to the Hama military airport, skirmishing with regime troops and allied paramilitaries, the Observatory said.
Media activists with the rebels posted over the weekend footage purporting to show them approaching the eastern side of the city of Hama, with the airport a few kilometers to the south.
Also, at least 20 soldiers were killed Saturday when rebels detonated a tunnel in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, the Observatory said.