64 dead in clashes between Syrian army, ISIL: Monitor
BEIRUT - Agence France-PresseFierce fighting between Syrian government forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group has killed 64 combatants in Raqqa province over a 24-hour period, a monitoring group said yesterday.
The clashes come with the army pressing an advance through Raqqa, in northern Syria, towards neighbouring Deir Ezzor, the only remaining province of the war-ravaged country still in the hands of ISIL jihadists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the fighting had claimed the lives of 38 jihadists and 26 pro-government combatants since early Aug. 29.
It takes to 145 the overall death toll in six days of fighting in villages on the banks of the Euphrates River in the east of Raqqa province, near Deir Ezzor.
ISIL said in a statement on Aug. 29 that its members had killed dozens of regime combatants in "intense fighting lasting hours.”
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the regime was fighting to secure a foothold in Raqqa province "in order to advance in Deir Ezzor.”
The jihadists have laid seige to government forces and civilians in the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor since 2015.
Earlier this month, government troops and allied fighters arrived at the outskirts of Madan, the last ISIL-held town in the countryside of eastern Raqqa province before Deir Ezzor.
But ISIL launched a counterattack last week that pushed the government forces back, and fighting has since continued.
The Syria army operation in the area, backed by air support from ally Russia, is separate from the battle for provincial capital Raqqa city.
The effort to oust ISIL from the city is being led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.