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    Syria tries to retake gas field from militants

    A man was wounded by what activists said was a car bomb near Damascus on Saturday.
    Yousef Albostany/Reuters
    A man was wounded by what activists said was a car bomb near Damascus on Saturday.

    BEIRUT — Syrian government forces have launched a counterattack to recapture a gas field seized by Islamic extremists, activists said Saturday, as the death toll from three days of fighting there rose to more than 200 people.

    The intense fighting in the Shaer field, which lies in the region of Palmyra in the central province of Homs, has been among the deadliest battles between government forces and the Islamic State group since the start of the Syrian uprising more than three years ago.

    Fighters from the Islamic State group have in the past few weeks seized a huge chunk of territory straddling the Iraq-Syria border, where they declared a self-styled caliphate. They also have captured much of Syria’s oil-rich eastern province of Deir el-Zour.


    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian special forces launched an attack late Friday on the Shaer field and regained parts of it.

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    A Homs-based activist who goes by the name of Beibares Tellawi confirmed that troops attacked fighters from the Islamic State group.

    ‘‘The fighting today is mostly hit-and-run attacks,’’ Tellawi said via Skype. ‘‘Large numbers of [President Bashar] Assad’s forces are attacking the field.’’

    The Observatory said that the number of troops, guards, and workers killed in the field since it was captured Thursday has risen to 270, adding that some were captured and killed by militants. Tellawi said the death toll was at least 200.

    The Observatory said Friday’s clashes alone left 51 soldiers either dead or wounded. It said 40 Islamic State fighters have been killed so far, while Tellawi said the number is more than 30.


    The fate of 90 other gas field workers and guards is still unknown, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria.

    In the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma, a car bomb exploded Saturday, killing at least nine people and wounding others, the Observatory said. The area has been struck by several car bombs in the past month that killed and wounded dozens.

    The Observatory and Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist in the southern province of Daraa, also reported intense shelling and air raids by government forces in the region that borders Jordan.

    Syria’s state news agency
    SANA said the army ‘‘hit terrorist dens,’’ killing and wounding scores of militants in several villages and towns in Daraa, including the villages of Tafas, Inkhil, Atman, and Dael.