Fifteen Syrian army soldiers died on Sunday in an attack by the Islamic State (IS) group on a military bus in a desert area in central Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported ( OSDH).

The OSDH adds that the toll could increase, most of the soldiers being "seriously injured".

This attack was not immediately claimed by IS.

The OSDH also indicated that three regime soldiers died on Saturday east of Palmyra during an armed attack against a vehicle transporting them.

IS cells still linger

"Cells of the Islamic State (IS) group attacked a military bus in the Syrian desert of Palmyra, killing 15 soldiers and wounding 18 others," said the Observatory, which has an extensive network of sources in Syria.

Shortly before, the official Syrian news agency Sana had reported "13 soldiers killed, including officers and 18 injured in a terrorist attack" perpetrated around 1:30 p.m. local time against a military bus in the Palmyra desert.

According to the Observatory, 61 pro-regime fighters – Syrian army soldiers or militiamen affiliated with Iran – have been killed in IS attacks in the Syrian desert since the beginning of the year.

The self-proclaimed IS caliphate was declared defeated in March 2019 in Syria, but cells of the jihadist group continue to carry out attacks against government and Kurdish forces in the desert.

On January 20, IS launched an assault on a prison held by Kurdish forces in the northeast of the country, killing dozens.

The leader of the IS, Abu Ibrahim al-Hachimi al-Qurachi, was killed ten days later by American special forces in Atmé, in the province of Idlib (north-west), the last great jihadist stronghold and rebel in Syria.

The war in Syria has claimed around 500,000 lives, devastated the country's infrastructure and displaced millions of people since its outbreak in 2011.

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