Islamic State militants stormed an air base in northeast Syria, capturing it from government forces after days of fighting that cost more than 500 lives, a monitoring group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 346 Islamic State fighters were killed and more than 170 members of government forces had died since Tuesday in the fight over Tabqa base, making it one of the deadliest confrontations between the two groups since the start of Syria’s war.
The Observatory, which monitors violence in Syria through sources on the ground, said fighting raged inside the air base on Sunday. It was the Syrian army’s last foothold in an area otherwise controlled by Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq.
In nearby Raqqa city, an Islamic State stronghold, there was celebratory gunfire and several mosques announced through their loudspeakers that the base had fallen to the Islamists and cheered “God is greatest”, a witness said.
IS fighters displayed the severed heads of Syrian army soldiers in the city square, the witness said, adding that Syrian warplanes were heard over Raqqa following the air base attack. Earlier on Sunday the Syrian air force had bombed areas around the base.
Syrian state television said that after fierce battles, the military was “regrouping”.
Citing a military source, it said there was a “successful evacuation of the airport” and that the army was continuing strikes on “terrorist groups” in the area, which it said had suffered heavy losses.
Syrian state media gave no figure for the number of people killed in the clashes.
Islamic State had also trapped around 150 retreating Syrian soldiers in an area near the base and was believed to be holding them captive, the Observatory said.