BEIRUT (Reuters) - Islamic State attacked the Syrian government’s main supply route from Damascus to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Monday, a day after the group targeted Damascus and Homs in some of the bloodiest car bomb attacks of the war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting and air strikes continue unabated across the country, a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had reached a provisional agreement on terms of a cessation of hostilities that would not include Islamic State.
Islamic State said it had taken control of a number of villages along an important road which connects government-held areas of Aleppo with the cities further south. A Syrian military source confirmed the attack but said it was repelled.
“They tried to attack this road, they were repelled and suffered big losses,” the source said. “After their great losses, they are seeking any propaganda operation.”
The Syrian government has been making steady gains against Islamic State to the east of Aleppo, while also mounting major offensives against insurgents to the north and south of the city. Islamic State is also under pressure from the Kurdish-backed Syria Democratic Forces alliance in the northeast.
The Observatory’s director, Rami Abdulrahman, said government forces had reclaimed one of four positions seized by Islamic State on the road, which it has cut in previous attacks. “The regime has recovered one of four positions that IS took on the road,” Abdulrahman said.
Syrian and allied forces were also fighting further up the road against Islamist insurgents from the Jund al-Aqsa group and the Turkestan Islamic Party, the Observatory said.
Islamic State said it was responsible for multiple bomb blasts on Sunday in Sayeda Zeinab, a southern district of Damascus, which state media said killed 83 people and injured dozens. It also said it carried out twin car bomb blasts in Homs which state media said killed at least at least 39.
The Observatory put the death toll from these attacks higher, with at least 120 killed in Damascus and 64 in Homs.
Syria’s foreign ministry wrote to the United Nations security council on Monday asking it to condemn these “terrorist crimes” and to take action against countries which “support and sponsor terrorists”, according to state media.
The Syrian government regards everyone fighting against it as terrorists and objects to the support given to Syrian rebels by countries including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
United Nations-sponsored peace talks to tackle the five-year old conflict, which has killed more than 250,000, collapsed in January. One of the reasons for their failure was because the Syrian opposition wanted a halt to air strikes, for all sieges to be lifted and for unhindered access for humanitarian aid.
Since then world powers have been trying to negotiate a ceasefire in the conflict which has displaced more than 11 million.
Kerry said on Sunday that he and Lavrov had provisionally agreed the terms of a “cessation of hostilities”.
This is to start on Feb. 27, according to a draft of a document drawn up by the United States and Russia seen by western diplomatic sources.
The deal would also exclude Islamic State and the Nusra Front, the sources said.
Assad said on Saturday he was ready for a ceasefire and the Syrian opposition has previously said it is ready for a temporary truce — provided its conditions were met.
The Saudi-backed, opposition High Negotiation Committee (HNC) is meeting in Riyadh on Monday, opposition officials said.
Opposition coordinator Riad Hijab said there was a provisional agreement on a temporary truce, which would be “according to international guarantees”.
Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry; editing by Giles Elgood