Islamic State group jihadists have killed 35 pro-Damascus fighters in the Syrian Desert, in what a monitoring group described Saturday as their deadliest operation since the fall of the “caliphate”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four senior Syrian army officers were among the troops and allied militiamen killed in the desert east of Homs province over the past 48 hours.

The Amaq propaganda arm of IS, which lost the last vestige of its “caliphate” to Kurdish-led forces last month but retains desert and mountain hideouts in both Syria and Iraq, said its fighters carried out the operation.

Another eight soldiers and militiamen, including two officers, were killed in a separate attack in neighbouring Deir Ezzor province on Thursday night, the Observatory said.

The attack targeted a desert village south of the city of Mayadeen, upstream from the stretch of the Euphrates Valley where IS made a desperate last stand for its “caliphate”, the Britain-based war monitor said.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman described it as the “biggest attack and the highest death toll among regime forces since the caliphate was declared defeated”.

Six IS fighters were killed in the clashes, the Observatory said.

Amaq said that IS had launched its assault on Thursday evening after government forces tried to track down its fighters.

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