BEIRUT: Syrian government forces and U.S.-backed opposition fighters clashed on Tuesday in a remote desert area in Syria amid rising tensions among groups vying for control of land where the borders with Iraq, Jordan and Syria meet.
The clashes came a day after pro-Syrian media said the U.S., Britain and Jordanian forces were "massing" on the Jordanian side of the border. The report was likely a reference to an annual U.S.-Jordanian military drill known as "Eager Lion."
Jordan's state-run Petra news agency said about 7,400 troops from more than 20 nations are participating.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem warned Jordan on Monday against sending troops to Syria. He also said the government troops' next target will likely be to reach the border with Iraq.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday's clashes were underway on the southern edge of Syria's central Homs province, where government forces have been on the offensive for days.
Tlas al-Salameh, the commander of a rebel faction know as Eastern Lions, said government warplanes carried out raids against his group but that they suffered no casualties. He also accused government troops of "obstructing" his group's efforts against Islamic State militants.
Both Syrian government troops and opposition fighters are battling the Islamic State group, which declared a so-called caliphate in 2014 in areas it seized in Syria and Iraq. Since then, IS has lost wide areas after coming under attack in Syria and Iraq from a U.S.-led international coalition.
"The regime forces have entered the area and blocked the way between us and Daesh," al-Salameh said, using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS. "We can't get to Daesh."
He said clashes were concentrated on the highway linking the Syrian capital, Damascus, with Baghdad, mostly at the Zaza junction, a triangle on the highway that leads to Homs, Damascus, or Iraq. Al-Salameh said rebels responded by striking at Khalkhala air base and a government-controlled power station nearby.
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