BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State group fighters stormed parts of a sprawling army air base Saturday in eastern Syria after days of clashes that killed dozens on both sides, activists said.
The sprawling base, outside the city of Deir el-Zour, has been used by the government in the past months to launch air raids on areas held by the Islamic State group bordering Iraq.
The Islamic State group is trying to capture the air base and a nearby barracks known as Brigade 137 to eliminate the main pocket of resistance in the area and provide a major morale and propaganda boost after a string of setbacks in recent weeks.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest attack began Saturday with a suicide car bomb attack at the main entrance of the Deir el-Zour air base. The Islamic State group began a major offensive on the air base, one of the last government-held areas in the province of Deir el-Zour, on Thursday.
The Observatory said that since Thursday, 111 fighters on both sides have been killed, including 51 troops and pro-government militiamen. It said some 60 Islamic State group fighters have been killed, of which 25 were Syrian.
Activists who support the Islamic State group posted photos on social media showing two military helicopters that they claimed were captured by the jihadis.
There was no immediate word from the government about Saturday’s capture of parts of the air base.
State news agency SANA said the government’s air force was taking part in the operations at the air base, adding that they destroyed an Islamic State group convoy consisting five armored vehicles and four pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns.
On Friday, Islamic State group fighters captured the strategic village of Jafra near the air base. If jihadis capture the air base and Brigade 137, they could threaten government-held areas in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour.