Syrian government forces directly clashed with US-backed rebels on Sunday, with state-run news agency SANA reporting they had seized rebel-held villages.
The two sides have only rarely clashed before, with the Syrian army largely staying west of the Euphrates.
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- Syria's SANA news agency reported government forces seized four villages held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
- The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported regime forces killed six US alliance fighters and injured 22.
- Both outlets said the clashes occurred close to provincial capital Deir el-Zour, near the Iraq border.
- The SDF later said in a statement that it had regained control of the whole area. The Observatory said one village remained in regime hands.
Crossing the Euphrates: In its fight against the "Islamic State" (IS) group the Syrian army has rarely clashed with SDF forces in the area. The predominantly Kurdish alliance seized much of the territory east of the Euphrates River in Deir el-Zour province during a campaign to drive out IS, but they have mostly stayed on their respective sides of the river. In February an attack on US personnel and SDF forces led to US airstrikes killing at least 100 pro-regime fighters.
Sabotage: On Sunday, the SDF accused Syrian authorities of attempting to disrupt US plans to resume an imminent offensive against IS in the area.
"We affirm that we are determined to eradicate terrorism from its roots and to assert our right to self-defense," SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said about IS. "We consider this aggression by regime forces to be a support for terrorism and falls within the attempts to impede the war on terrorism."
IS expelled: IS once held a large part of Deir el-Zour province, but over the past year regime forces recaptured most areas west of the Euphrates while SDF fighters took areas east of the river.
aw/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)