BEIRUT, Lebanon — The jihadists of the Islamic State launched a series of coordinated attacks in government-held areas of southern Syria on Wednesday, killing dozens of people.
The attacks, which included suicide bombings at a vegetable market and a public square in a provincial capital, along with raids on nearby villages, showed that the Islamic State could still inflict great damage in Syria, despite having lost most of the territory it once controlled.
The high death toll undermines the Syrian government’s narrative that the seven-year war is heading toward its conclusion, with the leadership working to restore stability. About half of the dead were pro-government fighters, a conflict monitor said.
The attacks hit the city of Sweida, the capital of the province of the same name, along Syria’s border with Jordan. Most of the area’s residents are members of the Druse sect, and the area has largely been spared the violence that has torn apart other areas of Syria during the war.
Four suicide bombers entered the city Wednesday morning, Syrian state television said. One, on a motorcycle, struck a vegetable market. Another detonated his explosives in a public square. Two others blew themselves up while being approached by security forces, the broadcaster said.
It aired images of scattered vegetables and damaged cars in the street, where work crews were cleaning the area.
Syrian state media put the death toll in the bombings at 38, blaming the Islamic State for the attacks.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group in Britain that opposes the Syrian government, said that Islamic State militants had also attacked a number of villages near the city, clashing with government forces. It put the death toll for the bombings and clashes at 56 people, including 28 pro-government fighters and 16 militants.
The reason for the discrepancy in the death tolls was not immediately clear.
The war in Syria began in 2011 with an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that turned into an armed rebellion. The chaos provided an opening for jihadist groups, particularly the Islamic State, which expanded rapidly in 2014 to create a so-called caliphate that spanned large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, has since regained control of most of the country’s center and its most highly populated areas, although parts of the north and east remain out of its hands.
The fighters of the Islamic State have lost most the territory they once controlled, but they still hold pockets in the desert along the border. Analysts have warned that as the jihadists lose territory, they are likely to return to their roots as an underground insurgency, carrying out attacks like those on Wednesday.
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Follow Ben Hubbard on Twitter at @NYTBen.
Orignially published in NYT.