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Jul 25, 11:28 AM EDT

Jordan shoots down 'aerial target' near Syria


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Jordan shoots down 'aerial target' near Syria

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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- Jordan's air force shot down an "aerial target" near the Syrian border on Friday, a Jordanian military official said. Eyewitnesses said the object was a drone.

It was not immediately clear where the object came from, but there have been reports of intense fighting in the southern Syrian province of Daraa that borders Jordan.

Syria's civil war, now in its fourth year, has often spilled across the country's borders. Also, extremists from the Islamic State group last month seized a huge chunk of territory straddling the Iraq-Syria border, declared a self-styled caliphate and imposed their harsh interpretation of Islam on the civilian population in the area.

In Syria, members of the Islamic State fought government forces in different areas on Friday, mostly in the country's north. Since their blitz offensive in Iraq in June, the Islamic State has increasingly taken on President Bashar Assad's forces in a push to seize as much of Syrian territory as possible.

The aerial target was followed by Jordan's air force and shot down at dawn over an empty area in the province of Mafraq, said the Jordanian official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. "The armed forces will not allow any infringement of the country's security," he said.

According to eyewitnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for their safety, the drone was shot down near the Zaatari camp in Jordan, which is home to more than 120,000 Syrian refugees who fled the conflict at home.

In April, Jordanian warplanes struck a convoy of vehicles as they were trying to enter Jordan from Syria. The Jordanian military said the aircraft destroyed the vehicles after firing warning shots.

Jordan hosts nearly 600,000 registered Syrian refugees - although Jordanian officials say the real number is far higher. The kingdom has quietly supported Syria's rebels since the start of the uprising against Assad in 2011, and ordered Syria's ambassador out in May after accusing him of making "offensive" statements about Jordan.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency said government troops repelled a new attack by the Islamic State on an army base in the northeastern province of Hassakeh. The agency said Omar al-Shishani, a powerful ethnic Chechen commander fighting with the Islamic State, led the attack.

Syrian troops "inflicted heavy losses on the Islamic State" near the base known as Battalion 111, SANA said, adding that jihadis withdrew more than 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the outskirts of the base.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, confirmed that army troops repelled the attack.

SANA also said that government forces regrouped after Islamic State fighters overran a part of another military base, in the northern province of Raqqa on Thursday. The militants had besieged the base for months in fierce battles that killed or wounded dozens on both sides, activists said.

On Friday, SANA said government troops were still in the Raqqa base, known as Division 17. The Observatory's Rami Abdurrahman said about 900 soldiers remained at the base while others had withdrawn toward another military base nearby.

SANA also said a militant attack Thursday on the ruling Baath party headquarters in the provincial capital of Hassakeh killed several members of Assad's forces. It said the attack was carried out by fighters wearing explosive belts who were all killed in the fighting.

Syria's civil war has killed at least 170,000 people, nearly a third of them civilians, according to activists. Nearly three million Syrians have fled the country.

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Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

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