♦ Turkey accused of recruiting ex-IS fighters for offensive against Kurds
♦ Ankara to host Syria summit with Russia, Iran
The US-led coalition yesterday said it killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters to fend off an attack on its allies in eastern Syria, in one its deadliest confrontations yet with forces backing Damascus.
The initial attack was carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on key oil and gas installations in parts of Deir Ezzor province controlled by US-backed Kurdish forces.
The clash came against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Washington and Damascus over an uptick in the suspected use of chemical weapons by the regime and allied militia.
Meanwhile, regime warplanes rained bombs for a fourth consecutive day on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, where the death toll soared to more than 180 since Monday.
According to the US Central Command (CENTCOM), coalition advisers were present in the area that was attacked by pro-government forces in Deir Ezzor province late on Wednesday.
"The coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression,” it said.
Syrian state media confirmed that dozens were killed in the clash but appeared to deny the forces were army soldiers, describing the victims as "popular forces".
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the forces that launched the attack on SDF positions were local tribal fighters loyal to Assad and Afghan Shia militia fighting alongside the regime.
Russia condemned the attack.
Washington has recently ramped up the rhetoric against Damascus over its alleged use of chemical weapons, including on a number of occasions in January and February.
Chlorine-filled munitions are reported to have been fired several times on rebel-controlled areas, including the enclave of Eastern Ghouta.
The regime has stepped upped its bombardment of the enclave, which government forces have has been besieging since 2013.
Warplanes dropped bombs for the fourth consecutive day yesterday, killing at least 38 civilians and wounding dozens, according to the Observatory. The latest bloodshed brought the death toll to more than 187 for the week and left medics completely overwhelmed.
Eastern Ghouta was one of several so-called de-escalation zones agreed last year by three of the main outside players in the conflict -- Turkey, Iran and Russia.
Ankara announced Thursday it would host a new three-way summit to revive efforts to end the war, which has killed at least 340,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.
Meanwhile, an Independent report quoting an IS source yesterday said that Turkey is recruiting and retraining IS fighters to lead its invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.
“Most of those who are fighting in Afrin against the YPG are IS, though Turkey has trained them to change their assault tactics,” said Faraj, a former IS fighter from north-east Syria who remains in close touch with the jihadi movement.