BEIRUT: ISIS militants have entered a key military base in eastern Syria, killing at least 50 soldiers in an ambush while launching their first coordinated, multifront attack on government forces, an anti-regime monitoring group said Friday.
The offensive has killed at least 74 people in the past 24 hours, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Buoyed by their capture of swaths of western and northcentral Iraq last month, the militants launched multiple attacks on army positions across northern and northeastern Syria Thursday.
The Observatory said that it was the first time that ISIS, accused by rival rebel groups of focusing its formidable firepower more on them than on the Damascus regime, launched such coordinated assaults on army positions.
The jihadists went on the offensive near the city of Aleppo, in Hassakeh province in the northeast and in Raqqa province around their Euphrates Valley stronghold, the Observatory said.
The Britain-based Observatory said most of the casualties came in Hassakeh and Raqqa.
It said the toll included at least 32 jihadists, 30 soldiers and 12 members of the ruling Baath Party of President Bashar Assad.
In Hassakeh’s provincial capital of the same name, four suicide bombers launched an attack inside the local Baath headquarters.
Among the 12 dead was “a Baathist member who was decapitated with a sharp instrument,” said the Observatory, which relies on activists and medical staff on the ground for its information.
South of Hassakeh city, 11 soldiers were killed in an ISIS attack on an army position and 17 jihadists were killed, it said.
“Regime bombardment forced ISIS to withdraw overnight,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said.
In Raqqa province, which is mainly held by ISIS, the jihadists attacked two positions of the army’s 17th Division, sparking fighting that left dozens of dead and wounded, the Observatory said.
In one attack, two suicide bombers – one a Saudi – blew up trucks packed with explosives.
“At least six soldiers, one an officer, were decapitated and eight jihadists were killed,” the Observatory said. “The ISIS wants to ‘clean’ the province of any army presence,” Abdel-Rahman said.
State media said the army had inflicted huge losses on ISIS fighters, while acknowledging that its forces were “regrouping” in the wake of the attack in Raqqa.
An Austrian jihadist posted video of the purported spoils from the 17th Division, as ISIS militants examined the living quarters of regime troops and officers, destroying pro-Assad paraphernalia and expressing disgust at the presence of cigarettes and alcohol on the premises.
East of Aleppo province, the jihadists attacked the Kweiris air base, sparking fierce fighting Thursday that has since died down, the Observatory said.
The more than three-year-old conflict in Syria is becoming increasingly complex as ISIS battles government forces, mainstream rebels, its former allies of Al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, as well as Kurdish militia.
Separately, Jordan’s air force shot down an “aerial target” near the Syrian border, a Jordanian military official said, while eyewitnesses said the object was a drone.
It was not immediately clear where the object came from, but regime versus rebel clashes in neighboring Deraa provinces have picked up recently.
Witnesses said a drone was shot down near the Zaatari camp, which is home to more than 120,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war.
And on the border with Lebanon, a Syrian air force strike killed around 20 Syrian rebel fighters, security sources said, in the latest spillover of violence into the area.
The strike hit just inside Lebanese territory in a barren area east of the town of Arsal, the sources said.