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Syrian government forces take southern region from IS

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian government forces captured a southern region from the Islamic State group on Monday after weeks of fighting that left scores dead on both sides, a government-linked media outlet reported.

Syrian Central Military Media said the army retook the rugged Tulul al-Safa region, the last pocket of territory held by the extremists in the country’s south. It said troops are now clearing away explosives and booby-traps left behind by the militants.

President Bashar Assad’s forces have been steadily advancing on all fronts in recent years with help from Russia and Iran. IS has lost virtually all the territory it once controlled in Syria and neighboring Iraq, but still carries out attacks in both countries.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, reported that government forces captured the area on Saturday.

It said scores of fighters were allowed to move into the nearby Homs province in recent days, while those who refused to leave were crushed by government forces.

The Suwayda 24, an activist collective, said IS fighters withdrew through the desert to hideouts in Homs province and other areas south of the capital, Damascus. Most of the fighters had earlier moved to the Tulul al-Safa region as part of an evacuation deal with the government when it retook the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk and other southern Damascus neighborhoods in May.

IS launched one of its deadliest attacks in Syria in July, when scores of extremists attacked the city of Sweida and nearby villages, killing at least 216 people. They also kidnapped some 30 women and children. Most were later released in prisoner exchanges or freed by advancing troops. Five either died or were killed in custody.

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