Islamic State group storms air base in east Syria

This photo provided on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, by an anti-Islamic State group and anti-Bashar Assad activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, showa burned cars and damaged buildings on a street after Syrian government forces airstrikes struck a popular market near a museum and an industrial neighborhood in Raqqa city, north Syria. The death toll from a series of Syrian government airstrikes on the Islamic State group’s stronghold in northeastern Syria has risen to at least 95, making it one of the deadliest attacks on the city of Raqqa in the past three years. (AP Photo/Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently)

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, while state media reported that the offensive was repelled.

The 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 at the main entrance of the Deir el-Zour air base. Later Saturday, the push stopped after fighters came under heavy shelling from army positions, it added.

The group said that some Islamic State fighters had breathing problems in the area after government forces used chlorine gas against them.

Syrian state TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that troops repelled attempts by “terrorists” on several areas near the city of Deir el-Zour and killed “tens of them and destroyed their vehicles and weapons.”

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, 119 fighters on both sides have been killed, including 51 troops and pro-government militiamen. It said some 68 Islamic State group fighters have been killed, of which 33 were Syrians and two were French citizens.

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.

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