Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists attacked troops loyal to Syrian dicatator Bashar al-Assad with mustard gas at a military airport in Syria’s eastern province of Deir al-Zor that borders Iraq, state-owned media has alleged.
“Syrian state media did not disclose how many casualties were sustained in the latest drive by the hardline fundamentalist Sunni militants to capture the heavily defended airport located south of Deir al Zor city, whose main neighborhoods are under the militants control,” reports Reuters.
“The terrorists fired rockets carrying mustard gas,” said a statement on Syria’s state-owned Ikhbariyah television station.
Deir al-Zor is a strategic province that links ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria’s Raqqa with its militants in Iraq.
Earlier, the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency reported that the jihadists had launched a wide scale attack near the airport, adding that two of its suicide bombers had caused “tens of dead” among the Syrian army defenses.
According to the the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which monitors the Syrian conflict using a network of ground sources, ISIS has advanced despite heavy aerial strikes aimed at repelling the militants.
“The Syrian army backed by heavy Russian airstrikes was able last January to drive back the hardline militants from several villages near the airport but has so far failed to dislodge them,” reports Reuters.
For months, ISIS has besieged large parts of Deir al-Zour city, with an estimated population of 200,000 people, BBC notes.
“Earlier this year the UN started dropping aid to civilians trapped in government-held areas,” points out BBC. “The air base, south of the city, is the government’s last strategic asset in the province, which is mostly under IS control.”
ISIS was suspected of carrying out a mustard gas attack on the northern Iraqi town of Taza last month, killing three children and wounding hundreds of people.
“It is also reported to have used mustard gas against rebels in Marea, northern Syria, and against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq last August,” reports BBC.
Sulphur mustard – commonly known as ‘mustard gas’ although it is liquid at ambient temperature – is a powerful irritant and blistering agent which causes severe damage to the skin, eyes and respiratory system and internal organs.
The Syrian government has itself been repeatedly accused of perpetrating chemical weapons attacks, something it vehemently denies.
Syria is supposed to be free of chemical weapons since June 2014 under a deal reached with the support of the United Nations.
“A fragile ‘cessation of hostilities’ truce has held in Syria for over a month as the various parties to the conflict try to negotiate an end to Syria’s civil war,” reports Reuters.
“But the truce excludes Islamic State and the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. Air and land attacks by Syrian and allied forces continue in parts of Syria where the government says the groups are present,” it adds.