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Beirut:  A bus bombing on Thursday killed 18 Syrian soldiers in a Damascus suburb and wounded at least 27 others, Syria’s state media reported citing a military source, as fighting in the country’s north picked up.

Similar attacks over the past years have killed and wounded dozens of soldiers in government-held parts of the war-torn country. Last March, militants attacked a military bus near Palmyra in central Syria, killing 13 troops and wounding 18 others.

Syrian authorities in the past have blamed such attacks on Daesh militants who have been active in southern and central Syria, despite losing territorial control in the country since 2019.

In northern Syria, members of an Al Qaida-linked group captured a town that had been held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters since 2018. The capture of the town of Afrin by members of Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, Arabic for the Levant Liberation Committee, which is the strongest militant group in the rebel-held northwest, came after days of fighting between rival insurgent groups in the area.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said HTS captured some 30 military posts in the area from Turkey-backed groups.

The fighting was triggered by last week’s killing of a citizen journalist and his wife who were shot dead while on a motorcycle in the northern town of Al Bab. A Turkey-backed group was blamed for the killing and since then it has come under attack by several insurgent groups, including HTS.

The Syria Humanitarian Response, a non-governmental-organization in northern Syria, said the latest round of fighting left four civilians dead and 28 injured while about 1,000 families have fled their homes.

There was no immediate comment from Turkey, which has launched three major operations inside Syria since 2016, targeting the Kurdish militia the People’s Protection Units _ or YPG _ which Ankara considers to be a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The PKK has for decades waged an insurgency within Turkey.

The YPG, however, forms the backbone of US-led forces in the fight against Islamic State militants and has been a proven top US ally in Syria.