BEIRUT, Lebanon – Islamic State jihadists launched a series of coordinated attacks in southern Syria on Wednesday, which, according to local officials and a war observer, destroyed the calm that prevailed in the area and killed more than 200 people.
The attacks, which included suicide bombings on a vegetable market and a public square in a provincial capital, as well as raids on nearby villages, showed that the Islamic State in Syria was still causing enormous damage despite losing most of its territory ( 19659002) The high death toll undermines the Syrian government's story that the seven-year war is on its way to completion, while President Bashar al-Assad is working to restore stability. The dead included many pro-government fighters, a conflict monitor said.
On Wednesday, four suicide bombers entered the provincial capital of Sweida tomorrow, the Syrian state television said. One, on a motorcycle, hit a vegetable market. Another detonated his explosives on a public square. Two others blew themselves up while they were approached by security forces, the station said.
Images of scattered vegetables and damaged cars were broadcast on the street, where work crews cleaned the area.
At the same time, Islamic State militants attacked a number of villages in the north and east of the city, killing civilians and clashing with local militias defending the area.
"People in Eastern villages woke up this morning to see bodies in streets, some of them were slaughtered with knives or in the head," said Mazayiad Hasson, a resident of the area who spoke through a news application.
Hassan Omar, a provincial health official, told the Associated Press that 204 people have been killed in suicide bombings and clashes that left 180 people injured.
The Syrian Human Rights Observatory, a British surveillance group opposed to the Syrian government, said 221 people were killed, including pro-government fighters and civilians. At least 45 Islamic State fighters were killed, including seven who blew themselves up.
The Islamic State took responsibility for the attacks on its social media channels and said that its fighters killed more than 100 people. He said his militants had launched attacks on government institutions and had clashed with Syrian troops before they blew themselves up.
The war in Syria began in 2011 with a uprising against Mr Assad, who turned into an armed rebellion. The chaos opened up an opportunity for jihadist groups, especially for the Islamic State, which quickly spread in 2014 and later proclaimed a caliph that included much of Syria and Iraq.
The Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, is regaining control of most of the country and its most densely populated areas, although parts of the north and east are no longer in its hands.
The fighters of the Islamic State have lost most of the land they once controlled, but still pockets in the desert along the southern border. Analysts have warned that jihadists, if they lose their territory, are likely to return to their roots as an underground insurgency and launch attacks like this on Wednesday.
Follow Ben Hubbard on Twitter: @NYTBen . 19659017] A New York Times employee reported from Damascus, Syria
Follow Ben Hubbard on Twitter at @NYTBen.