After reverses, Islamic State attacks Syrian forces near Damascus

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[April 06, 2016]  BEIRUT (Reuters) - Islamic State fighters launched attacks on government-held areas near Damascus overnight on Tuesday in an apparent response to the group's loss of ground elsewhere in Syria.

The jihadist group said in a statement it had attacked the Tishrin power station 50 km (30 miles) northeast of the capital and a Syrian military source acknowledged the group had staged assaults, but said all those who took part had been killed.

Syrian and allied forces backed by Russian air strikes have forced Islamic State militants out of the town of al-Qaryatain, 100 km (60 miles) west of the ancient city of Palmyra, itself recaptured by the government last week.

The Syrian military source said Tuesday night's attacks outside Damascus appeared to be the jihadist group's response to its reverses around Palmyra.

Islamic State has also been losing ground to U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria, and in recent days to Turkish-backed rebel groups fighting a separate battle against the group north of Aleppo.

Islamic State attackers, using five bomb-laden cars, also struck military positions near the airport, southeast of Damascus, killing 12 soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization that tracks the war, said.

Government forces responded with shelling and air strikes in that area, and jets also struck the town of Dumeir, 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Damascus, which is held by a rebel group sympathetic to Islamic State, the Observatory said.

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It added that the strikes killed at least nine civilians there and that around 15 Islamic State fighters, as well as the drivers of its five bomb-laden cars, died in the clashes.

The Syrian military source said 13 of the group's fighters had been killed in clashes in the area around Dumeir.

(Reporting By Tom Perry and Angus McDowall; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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