Syrian government forces seized full control of the last major town in Homs province held by Daish, Syrian state media reported on Saturday, as unidentified assailants shot dead seven members of Syria’s White Helmets rescue service, the group said.
Syrian state media cited a military source saying Daish rebels had been killed and their weapons destroyed at the town of Al Sukhna, some 50km northeast of the ancient city of Palmyra.
The town is also located some 50km from the provincial boundary of Deir Al Zor province, Daish’s last major foothold in Syria and a major target for the Syrian government.
The radicals have lost swathes of Syrian territory to separate campaigns being waged by government forces backed by Russia and Iran, and by the US-backed Syrian Democratic (SDF) Forces, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia. The SDF is currently focused on capturing Raqa city from Daish.
Syrian government forces advancing from the west have recently crossed into Deir Al Zor province from southern areas of Raqa province.
Daish controls nearly all of Deir Al Zor province, which is bordered to the east by Iraq. The Syrian government still controls a pocket of territory in Deir Al Zor city, and a nearby military base.
Unidentified assailants shot dead the White Helmets rescue service early on Saturday during a raid on their base in the town of Sarmin, nine kilometres east of the city of Idlib, that is controlled by the Hayat Tahrir Al Sham radicals alliance.
“The civil defence centre in Sarmin was the target of an armed attack by unknown assailants in which seven volunteers were killed,” the White Helmets said in statement.
“Two minibuses, some white helmets and walkie-talkies were stolen.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven volunteers had all been killed by bullets to the head.
“Colleagues came in the morning for the change of shift and found them dead,” its director, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.
The White Helmets emerged in 2013, working to rescue civilians in rebel-held areas.
They have since gained international renown for their daring rescues, often filmed and circulated on social media, and were nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
Although they work exclusively in rebel-held areas, they insist they are non-partisan.
Their detractors, including President Bashar Al Assad’s government and his ally Russia, accuse them of being tools of their international donors.
They receive funding from a number of western governments, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.