Jihadists of the Islamic State group edged closer to a strategic airbase in eastern Syria in heavy clashes that left 54 fighters dead, a monitoring group said Thursday.
The extremist group, which has captured territory across Iraq and Syria, seized control late Wednesday of an army post near the regime-held military airbase outside Deir Ezzor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"It was one of the Islamic State\’s fiercest attacks on the airport," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.
He said 36 IS fighters and 18 regime soldiers were killed.
The seizure of the army post, used by a rocket battalion, advanced IS to barely one kilometre (less than one mile) from the airport.
Abdel Rahman said the jihadists had used two suicide bombers in the assault, one of them a child, driving cars laden with explosives.
More than 50 jihadists were wounded in the fighting, he added.
IS already controls most of oil-rich Deir Ezzor province including about half of its capital, and has fought for more than a year to capture the airport and the rest of the city.
Deir Ezzor would be the second provincial capital to fall to the group after the northern city of Raqa, which it named the capital of its self-declared "caliphate".
The assault came as rival jihadists of Al-Qaeda\’s Syrian affiliate and their allies seized the last regime-held military base in Idlib province of northwest Syria.