BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic militants in Syria, disguised as farmers and wearing suicide belts, attacked a military post belonging to government forces on Tuesday in the country's northwest, setting off clashes that killed three soldiers, state media reported.
In a separate attack in the country's northeast, activists said a suicide bomber was killed after attempting to use a vehicle rigged with explosives to target a patrol convoy for the U.S.-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State group. No coalition members were reported killed, and the Kurdish Hawar news agency and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack took place near the town of Shaddadeh in Hasakeh province.
It was not clear if the attack targeted U.S. troops or their coalition partners. The coalition, in a statement emailed to The Associated Press, said it had received reports that a coalition vehicle hit an "improvised explosive device" in Syria, which resulted in no casualties.
"The incident is currently under investigation," it said.
This was the first such attack known to have targeted members of the coalition since Washington's local allies, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, declared defeat over IS in its final stronghold in Syria last month.
In the attack on Syrian government troops just outside Idlib province in the northwest, the state-run Ikhbariya TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying the militants advanced on the post in Tayyibat al-Imam, an area within a de-militarized zone that has been part of a truce deal sponsored by Russia and Turkey since September.
An uptick in violence in recent weeks has strained the fragile truce, which had earlier averted a government offensive on Idlib and surrounding areas, the last major rebel stronghold in the country. The region is home to some 3 million people, including many displaced from other battles in the civil war. The U.N. has warned of an "alarming spike in civilian casualties and new displacement," with increased fighting and an intensification of airstrikes in the truce area.
The military official who spoke to Ikhbariya TV said the Syrian soldiers clashed with the militants. Mortars, a tank and heavy machine guns were also used in the attack that killed the three soldiers. The militants blew themselves up, the official said.
The Observatory also reported the attack, saying it was carried out by three militants. Both the Observatory and a media group, Idlib Correspondent, said the jihadi Ansar Tawheed group was behind the attack. The Observatory said at least six soldiers were killed in the attack. The discrepancy in the death toll could not immediately be reconciled.