Toll in Syria’s Druze nears 250

Beirut: The death toll in coordinated IS group attacks in Syria’s Sweida neared 250 on Thursday, the Druze-majority province’s heaviest loss of life of the seven-year civil war.
Sweida, which is mainly government-held, had been largely insulated from the conflict raging in the rest of the country since 2011.
But Wednesday’s onslaught shattered the relative calm and showed that IS retains the ability to mount deadly attacks against civilians, despite being ousted from its last remaining urban pockets in recent months.
Four suicide bombers struck the city of Sweida, while other IS fighters attacked villages to its north and east with guns and explosives.
The death toll reached 246 on Thursday, 135 of them civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
The others killed were pro-government fighters or residents who had taken up arms to defend their villages.
“The toll keeps rising as civilians who were wounded are dying and people who were unaccounted for are found dead,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
It was the deadliest attack for the province and one of the highest tolls in IS attacks across the country.
State television broadcast footage of the funeral processions in Sweida, showing men in the traditional white caps of the Druze minority exchanging condolences.
Men carried caskets draped in the two-star government flag and pictures of those killed, against a backdrop of the rainbow colours representing their community.
At least 56 fighters died carrying out the assault, the Observatory said.
IS claimed responsibility in a series of statements on its propaganda channels on Wednesday.
It posted gruesome photographs showing fighters beheading at least four men it said were government fighters it had captured in Sweida.
IS has suffered a series of defeats that saw it ousted from the last urban pockets of the sprawling cross-border “caliphate” it proclaimed in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
But it retains a presence, including in a pocket of the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and in parts of the vast central Badiya desert, including in Sweida. On Thursday, Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem slammed the attacks as he hosted a delegation of Chinese diplomats in Damascus, according to state news agency Sana.
 — AFP