BEIRUT: ISIS launched an offensive Wednesday in Deir al-Zor city in eastern Syria in a bid to seize a major government airport nearby, activists said.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman said clashes and at least one suicide explosion had rocked eastern neighborhoods of Deir al-Zor controlled by government forces.
The jihadis also clashed with government troops on the outskirts of Deir al-Zor's military airport, but Abdel Rahman said they had yet to make any advance on the ground.
ISIS already controls most of Deir al-Zor province and roughly half of its provincial capital, said local media activist Mohammad al-Khleif.
"The most violent clashes between ISIS and the regime now are in the neighbourhoods of Al-Sanaa, Al-Rasafa, and Al-Omal in the east of the city," Khleif told AFP.
He said the areas were strategic because of their proximity to Deir al-Zor military airport and to the government's "security quarter" in the city's west, besieged by ISIS for more than four months.
If ISIS succeeds, Deir al-Zor would be the second provincial capital to fall to the group, after it named the northern city of Raqqa the capital of their "caliphate."
Abdel Rahman said Wednesday's clashes had killed one army officer and three soldiers, but he could no details on ISIS casualties.
Deir al-Zor lies at the crossroads of several key highways in Syria, leading east to the Iraqi border and north to Hassakeh province, which borders Turkey and where ISIS has been locked in battle with Kurdish militia.