BEIRUT: Fighters from ISIS stormed parts of a besieged army base in Raqqa province Thursday, setting off clashes that left dozens killed or wounded on both sides.
The assault, which began shortly after midnight, came a week after ISIS fighters captured a gas field in the central province of Homs, an attack that left more than 200 people dead.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group, said the assault began with two suicide car bomb attacks. It added that Syrian army helicopters attacked ISIS positions around the base, known as Division 17. By the end of the day, a total of 14 airstrikes had targeted the vicinity of Raqqa, and a Syrian general had been killed in the clashes, the Observatory said.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, reported 12 raids around Division 17 and the nearby provincial capital of Raqqa, which has been controlled by ISIS since last year. It said army helicopters were dropping barrel bombs around the base.
The Observatory said the fighting left 35 ISIS fighters dead and dozens of government forces dead or wounded, including six soldiers who were beheaded. The gruesome trophies, the Observatory continued, were later taken to the nearby city of Raqqa and displayed in a public square, where the militant group has carried out a number of summary executions and punishments for “un-Islamic” behavior.
The base has been under siege by rebels since much of Raqqa province fell to opposition fighters last year. ISIS, which captured much of Raqqa earlier this year, has tried to capture the base on several occasions.
Elsewhere, ISIS fighters stormed the headquarters of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ruling Baath party in the northeastern city of Hassakeh in the predominantly Kurdish province that carries the same name, activists said. Black banners of ISIS were seen raised over the Baath party building, the Observatory said.
Juan Mohammad, a Kurdish official in Hassakeh, said there were two explosions near the building.
Clashes between government forces and ISIS fighters had been rare until the group’s blitz advance in northern and western Iraq in June. Since then, violence between the two has intensified as jihadists try to remove all rival groups from areas under their control.