BEIRUT – Syrian government troops briefly captured four villages east of the Euphrates in eastern province of Deir el-Zour on Sunday after briefly clashing with US-backed Kurdish fighters before losing territory in a counter-offensive by the Kurdish-led troop.
The area near the border with Iraq has been the scene of recent clashes between the two sides focused on fighting the Islamic State group. ISIS had declared its caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.
Raids by government troops on the eastern bank of the Euphrates in eastern Syria were rare.
The state news agency SANA said the villages would be occupied by the US. assisted Syrian Democratic Forces, adding that they are near the provincial capital, also called Deir el-Zour. The SDF later said in a statement that she regained control of the entire area she had previously lost.
Much of Deir el-Zour province was held by the Islamic State group, but last year Syrian government forces captured most of the Euphrates areas while SDF militants captured areas east of the river.
On February 7, pro-Syrian government fighters attacked SDF positions east of the river and faced a fierce US counter-attack that killed dozens, including Russians.
SDF spokesman Cinema Gabriel said in a statement Sunday that the Syrian army's attack coincided with "Preparing Our Troops to End the Island Storm Campaign" to free the remaining areas east of the river from the IS. Gabriel said the Syrian army and pro-government fighters had begun to attack SDF fighters to prevent the start of our campaign against terrorism. Our forces react in self-defense. "
" We affirm that we are determined to eradicate terrorism from its roots and enforce our right to self-defense, "Gabriel said of IS." We regard this aggression of the regime forces as a support to terrorism and fall into an attempt to to prevent the war on terrorism. "
The UK-based Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, a war observer, said the Sunday offensive left six SDF fighters who are dead and 22 wounded, adding that there are also casualties
Gabriel later issued another statement stating that the entire previously lost area was being recovered by SDF fighters, saying that Syrian troops were being supported by Russian fighters, adding that the government forces were following suit SDF counter-offensive "far away."
The head of the observatory, Rami Abdurrahman, said the SDF fighters had taken most of the area back to a village. The fighting in East Syria came as Syrian state media and the observatory reported that an agreement was reached between the Syrian government and several rebel factions to evacuate the last three rebel-held suburbs of the capital, Damascus.
SANA said the deal will allow opposition fighters who want to evacuate the area to rebel areas, while those who choose to stay will be able to lay down their weapons and benefit from an amnesty.
The observatory said that rebels departing will be driving to the northwestern province of Idlib. the northern city of Jarablus and the southern province of Daraa, which borders on Jordan.
The three suburbs of Babila, Beit Sahem and Yalda have been held by rebels for years and their capture would bring all suburbs of the capital under state control.
The agreement came when government forces conquered more IS areas in the nearby Palestinian Yarmuk refugee camp and near Hajar al-Aswad.
SANA said that troops captured most of the Qadam area as well as the Assali and Joura neighborhoods in Hajar Aswad.
Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef contributed to this Cairo report.
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