BEIRUT: Islamic State jihadists seized control of a key town in the central Syrian province of Homs overnight after heavy clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a monitor said on Thursday.
The violent group started the attack on Wednesday morning when three suicide bombers targeted pro-regime checkpoints at entrances to the city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“IS seized Al-Qaryatain town in the southeastern countryside of Homs after violent clashes with pro-regime forces and loyalist fighters,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
A total of 37 regime soldiers and loyalist fighters were killed, while 23 IS fighters also died, Abdel Rahman said.
He said the town held strategic importance because of its location along a road linking the ancient city of Palmyra, which has been held by IS militants since May, with Qalamun region in Damascus province.
“The control of Al-Qaryatain allows IS to link the areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Homs with the areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Qalamun, and allows it to transfer fighters and supplies between the two regions,” Abdel Rahman said.
The ongoing clashes between government troops and the jihadist group are one of many fronts in Syria’s complex war, which has left more than 230,000 people dead since it began in March 2011.