BEIRUT: Rare clashes broke out on Sunday between Syrian regime forces and a US-backed alliance in the east of the country, killing a total of 15 combatants, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said the clashes in Deir ez-Zor Governorate killed nine pro-regime fighters and six members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
State news agency SANA said the army seized control of four villages in the eastern Syrian governorate, where the Kurdish-led SDF alliance has been fighting the Islamic State jihadist group.
The alliance later recaptured three of the four villages, according to the Observatory.
The SDF and Russian-backed Syrian government forces are conducting parallel but separate offensives against IS in the oil-rich governorate.
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 ez-Zor Governorate, 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 Abdulrahman 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, Abdulrahman 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 ez-Zor’s 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 ez-Zor Governorate 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 ez-Zor Governorate 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 foreign jihadists.