BEIRUT (AP) -- The Islamic State group seized a district previously held by Syrian government forces in the city of Deir el-Zour, expanding its presence in the contested region following heavy clashes with troops holed up inside, the extremist group and Syrian opposition activists said Thursday.
The IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency said the industrial district of Deir el-Zour fell to the group late Wednesday following daylong clashes that began with three successive suicide operations carried out by the militants on Syrian army outposts inside.
It said at least 38 Syrian troops were killed in the attack during which the group seized large amounts of ammunition and an armed personnel carrier from the government troops.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the IS capture of the district, saying at least 26 soldiers were killed.
The city is held mostly by IS but Syrian troops control a few districts inside and the Deir el-Zour airport on its outskirts.
IS fighters have launched several attacks in attempts to capture government-held parts of the city and the nearby airport in recent weeks without success.
Aamaq released a video showing the militants walking through rubble-filled streets, firing their machineguns amid blown out storefronts.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than a quarter of a million people since it started nearly five years ago, and displaced half the Middle Eastern country's population.
Syria's foreign minister said Thursday that his government is ready to take part in U.N.-organized peace talks and hopes the dialogue will help the country find a solution to the crisis.
The U.N. Security Council last Friday unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a peace process for Syria, including a cease-fire and talks between the Syrian government and the opposition. The U.N. plans to convene talks in Geneva in January.
"Syria is ready to participate in the Syrian-Syrian Dialogue in Geneva without any foreign interference," Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters after meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing. "Our delegation will be ready as soon as we receive a list of the opposition delegation."