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Syrian air defenses block rebel drone attack in northwest

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian army's air defenses repelled a drone attack by insurgents in the country's northwest, an area that until recently witnessed intense fighting, state news agency SANA said Saturday.

SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying that two of the drones were destroyed while the third was brought down and dismantled by soldiers on the ground. It said the drones were rigged with explosives and that Friday night's attack targeted an army position in the Ghab Plain area in the central Hama province.

The attack did not inflict casualties, according to SANA. Syrian government forces declared a unilateral cease-fire on Aug. 31 following a wide four-month offensive on Idlib province, the last remaining rebel stronghold in the country. According to the U.N., the government offensive has killed at least 1,000 civilians and displaced more than half a million people since it began April 30. Idlib province is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militant factions.

Activists reported sporadic violations of the cease-fire on Saturday, with some shells hitting rebel-held areas. In Washington, the Pentagon announced that Denmark will deploy troops in northeast Syria to help in the fight against the Islamic State group. The expected Danish troop deployment comes as hundreds of U.S. troops have withdrawn from Syria since President Donald Trump announced plans late last year to pull out of the country.

Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan R. Hoffman said Washington welcomes Denmark's deployment "to continue to share the burden and responsibilities of this important mission" against IS militants. "Our Danish partners will work with the residual U.S. military force in northeast Syria to support stability and security," said Hoffman in a statement released late Friday, adding that the deployment demonstrates Denmark's continued commitment to supporting the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that played instrumental role in the fight against IS.

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said the "new military contributions" to fighting IS in Syria are not limited to combat operations. "We put efforts into several fronts to create security, stability and - in the long term - a positive development in Europe's neighboring regions," Kofod said.

It was not immediately clear how many Danish troops will deploy in Syria. Despite IS being officially defeated in March in the last Syrian territory it controlled, extremist sleeper cells are believed to be responsible for a wave of targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

IS controlled large swathes of northern and eastern Syria, where they declared a caliphate in 2014 along with large parts of neighboring Iraq. U.N. experts warned last month that IS leaders are aiming to consolidate and create conditions for an "eventual resurgence in its Iraqi and Syrian heartlands."

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