Middle East

Syrian army, ISIS clash near army airport

An Islamist fighter prepares a mortar to be launched towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad in the town of Morek in Hama province July 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Badi Khlif)

BEIRUT: Syria's army clashed with Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) fighters outside a government-controlled military airport Friday, an activist group said, as the Al-Qaeda splinter group seeks to strengthen its grip on the east of the country.

Deir al-Zor airport is one of the last key strategic locations in the province out of the control of ISIS, which has also seized swath of territory across the border in northern and western Iraq.

The Syrian army responded by bombing areas around the airport, which supplies its forces in the east of the country, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. There were no details of casualties.

The fighting was just a few hundred meters from the airport, the Observatory's director Rami Abdul-Rahman said, adding that it would be tough for ISIS to overcome government forces there.

ISIS expelled rival rebels from Deir al-Zor city Monday, tightening its hold on the oil-producing province bordering Iraq.

Capturing parts of the province has helped ISIS link up territorial gains across Syria and Iraq, where it overran the northern city of Mosul in June. Last month it also declared an Islamic caliphate in territory it controls in both countries.

The group has made rapid gains in Syria in recent weeks, mostly by capturing territory from rival rebel groups.

There have also been confrontations with the Syrian army which has been bombing ISIS positions more frequently, according to activists.

The Sunni Muslim militant group follows Al-Qaeda's hard-line ideology but draws strength from foreign fighters, many with experience in Iraq.

It seized a gas field in eastern Syria Thursday and killed at least 90 people in one of its deadliest clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.





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