IS Launches Assault in Eastern Syria

IS Launches Assault in Eastern Syria

BEIRUT (AP) -- Islamic State militants launched a new offensive on government-held areas in the contested city of Deir el-Zour Saturday, attacking the eastern city from several sides in the most intense action in a year, the Syrian government and opposition activists said.

Syrian television said three people were killed and nine were wounded in IS rocket attacks on several neighborhoods of the city.

Intense fighting broke out between Syrian troops and IS members in the city and in the vicinity of a nearby military airport controlled by government forces after the militants launched their multi-pronged attack starting from the area of Baghaliyeh near the northwestern tip of the city.

Loud explosions that shook the city were reported. Activists said Syrian warplanes were taking part in the battles.

The Deir Ezzor 24 news network reported ongoing clashes since the morning near Deir el-Zour military airport and other fronts in the city and said Syrian warplanes targeted Baghaliyeh and Ayash areas and the vicinity of an army base known as Brigade 137 west of the city.

The extremist group, which controls most of Deir el-Zour province, has kept the provincial capital under siege since 2014. Government forces have withstood the encirclement thanks to air-dropped humanitarian assistance and weapons and ammunition flown into the airport. Remaining residents have reported malnourishment and starvation amid severe shortages of food, water and fuel.

IS has tried to capture the government-held neighborhoods of Deir el-Zour and the city's suburbs over the past months without much success.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday's offensive was the most intense since mid-January 2016, when the group killed dozens of people, most of them pro-government militiamen, in wide-scale attacks on the city that saw the group make significant advances. Most of those casualties took place in Baghaliyeh and the killings — many people were shot dead or beheaded — were some of the worst carried out by the extremist group.

The Observatory said the group has recently brought in reinforcements, including large amounts of ammunition and fuel, in preparation for the battle.

The Islamic State group, which in 2014 seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and established a so-called Islamic caliphate straddling both sides of the border, is under intense pressure in both countries where it has lost significant territory in recent months.

(KA)