Syria army secures key town in Homs province

Syrians walk and ride motorcycles during the funeral of seven members of the Syrian civil defense volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, during their funeral in Sarmin, a town east of Syria's northwestern city of Idlib, Saturday. — AFP

BEIRUT — Syrian government forces seized full control of the last major town in Homs province held by Daesh (the so-called IS), Syrian state media reported on Saturday, as the army and its allies press a multi-pronged advance into eastern areas held by the militant group.

Syrian state media cited a military source saying Daesh militants had been killed and their weapons destroyed at the town of Al-Sukhna, some 50 km northeast of the ancient city of Palmyra.

The town is also located some 50 km from the provincial boundary of Deir Al-Zor province, Daesh’s last major foothold in Syria and a major target for the Syrian government.

The militants have lost swathes of Syrian territory to separate campaigns being waged by government forces backed by Russia and Iran, and by the US-backed Syrian Democratic (SDF) Forces, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia. The SDF is currently focused on capturing Raqqa city from Daesh.

Syrian government forces advancing from the west have recently crossed into Deir Al-Zor province from southern areas of Raqqa province.

Daesh militants control nearly all of Deir Al-Zor province, which is bordered to the east by Iraq. The Syrian government still controls a pocket of territory in Deir Al-Zor city, and a nearby military base.

Seven rescue workers killed in town east of Idlib

Unidentified assailants shot dead seven members of Syria's White Helmets rescue service early Saturday during a raid on their base in a militant-held northwestern town, the group said.

The attackers struck in the town of Sarmin, 9 km east of the city of Idlib, that is controlled by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance.

"The civil defense center in Sarmin was the target of an armed attack by unknown assailants in which seven volunteers were killed," the White Helmets said in statement.

"Two minibuses, some white helmets and walkie-talkies were stolen."

It was not immediately clear whether the motives for the raid were political or purely criminal.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven volunteers had all been killed by bullets to the head.

"Colleagues came in the morning for the change of shift and found them dead," its director, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

The White Helmets emerged in 2013, working to rescue civilians in rebel-held areas.

They have since gained international renown for their daring rescues, often filmed and circulated on social media, and were nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.

Although they work exclusively in rebel-held areas, they insist they are non-partisan.

Their detractors, including President Bashar Al-Assad's government and his ally Russia, accuse them of being tools of their international donors.

They receive funding from a number of Western governments, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.

Critics also accuse them of harboring rebel fighters, including militants, in their ranks. — Agencies