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Syria regime, US-backed forces in deadly clashes: monitor

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AFP Beirut
Rare clashes broke out Sunday between Syrian regime forces and a US-backed alliance in the east of the country, killing six alliance fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
State news agency SANA said the army seized control of four villages from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Deir Ezzor province, where the Kurdish-led alliance has been fighting the Islamic State jihadist group.
The SDF and Russian-backed Syrian government forces are conducting parallel but separate offensives against IS in the oil-rich province.
But both sides have largely avoided running into each other and a deconfliction line exists to avoid such incidents.
The Kurdish-led alliance is present on the eastern side of the Euphrates River that cuts across Deir Ezzor province, while regime forces hold territory on the river's western bank, including the provincial capital of the same name.
Incidents between both sides have occurred in the past, but Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said it was the first time the regime had launched an operation to seize territory from the SDF.
"The regime's aim is to protect Deir Ezzor city by pushing back SDF fighters from the eastern bank" of the Euphrates, Abdel Rahman said. SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali reported "exchange of gunfire" between both sides.
"The Syrian regime army along with its militias started to attack our forces in Deir Ezzor countryside along the Euphrates River," the alliance said in a statement.
In February, the US-led coalition backing the SDF carried out air strikes in Deir Ezzor province that killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters. Washington said the strikes were in retaliation for an attack on its own personnel and SDF forces.
In September last year, the SDF accused Russia of killing one of its fighters in strikes on a gas facility newly retaken from IS.
IS jihadists have lost most of the self-proclaimed "caliphate" they once controlled in large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq since 2014.
Today, the jihadists hold less than four percent of Syria, the Observatory says.
This includes desert pockets in Deir Ezzor province and parts of southern Damascus where they are under attack by regime forces.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria's war since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
It has since spiralled into a complex conflict involving world powers and jihadists.

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First Published: Apr 29 2018 | 8:55 PM IST

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