Islamic State jihadists have killed 12 Syrian regime fighters in an ambush as the group faces separate assaults on its last desert strongholds, a war monitor said Tuesday.

The attack late Monday in Syria s southern province of Sweida came as US-backed forces advanced against the jihadists on the border with Iraq, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It also comes with President Bashar al-Assad s forces poised to launch an attack on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major region in Syria still controlled by rebels and jihadists.

The IS ambush in Sweida s volcanic plateau of Tulul al-Safa sparked fighting that killed eight jihadists, the Britain-based Observatory said.

State news agency SANA reported heavy clashes with IS in the area, which lies some 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Damascus, adding that government aircraft and artillery “targeted hideouts and positions” held by the group.

Government forces have been fighting IS in Sweida since jihadists carried out a wave of attacks in the mainly Druze province on July 25, killing 250 people according to the Observatory.

During their rampage, which targeted the provincial capital as well as rural areas, the jihadists also seized around 30 hostages, mostly women and their children.

At least 27 are believed to still be held, according to Human Rights Watch, after IS said it had beheaded a 19-year-old man and announced an elderly woman had died.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the hostages were believed to be held captive in the Tulul al-Safa area.

A source in Sweida told AFP that families had had no word of their kidnapped relatives in weeks.

IS has lost nearly all of the great swathes of territory straddling Iraq and Syria which it seized in 2014, but retains a presence in the vast Badiya desert that lies between Damascus and the Iraqi border, and holds a pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the east.

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