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Apr 29, 1:23 PM EDT

Syria government repels IS attack in Aleppo province


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BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria's military said its troops and allied fighters repelled Saturday an attack by the Islamic State group on a strategic area held by the government in southern Aleppo province.

The attack took place in Khanaser, southeast Aleppo - a strategic region that links Aleppo with central and western Syria. The area has changed hands many times during the conflict. But last year, government troops and allied fighters wrested control of Khanaser from IS.

The military media arm said IS attacked Um Mayyal village near a mountain range in Khanaser and other areas.

The opposition Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says IS fighters launched the attack on military posts in the area, triggering intense clashes and leaving many casualties.

IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency claimed IS fighters killed 30 government soldiers in the attack on Um Mayal village east of Khanaser.

Also on Saturday, hundreds of Syrians from the rebel-held suburbs of eastern Ghouta near Damascus protested against infighting between the insurgent groups that began Friday and left dozens killed in the area.

The infighting came amid an intensified government offensive in the area near Damascus, which the rebels have controlled for years but has been increasingly squeezed by government advances.

"God rid us of all leaders," the protesters chanted, criticizing the head of the insurgent groups for diverting their weapons from the front line with the government.

The infighting is pitting the powerful Army of Islam group against al-Rahman Corps and al-Qaida-linked group the Levant Liberation Committee, or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Each side blames the other for triggering the fighting in the power struggle over control of eastern Ghouta. Some activists have called on Army of Islam to rid eastern Ghouta of the powerful al-Qaida-linked group.

The Observatory said shots were fired at the protesters in one area, leaving five injured.

In 24 hours of fighting, the Observatory said at least 38 insurgents from the warring sides were killed. Damascus-based Shaam News Network put the number at 60, in addition to six civilians killed because of the clashes.

For the past three years, the government has been unable to regain control of the eastern suburbs of Damascus. But in recent weeks, an intensified offensive points to a new determination to retake the area.

On Saturday, activists reported a heavy air campaign against the area's Qaboun neighborhood.

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