ISIS seizes eastern Syria air base: monitoring group

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Published Saturday, December 6, 2014

Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group seized part of the key government air base in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria in fierce fighting on Saturday, a monitoring group said.

"(ISIS) mounted a dawn attack on Deir Ezzor military airport and entered several areas as fierce clashes unfolded between the jihadists and regime forces there," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The assault began with a suicide bomber targeting the main gate, followed by an artillery bombardment, the Britain-based group said.

Jihadist fighters managed to seize a missile facility in the southeast of the complex, it added.

Fighting was also reported inside Deir Ezzor city itself on Saturday.

The Observatory added that 51 members of the Syrian army and 60 members of ISIS had been killed in the three-day offensive.

On Friday, the Observatory said the militants were closing in on the base, nearly surrounding its beleaguered garrison.

Syrian state media did not mention a breach but said the army had killed "a number of terrorists" in al-Jufra, an area close to the airport, on Friday. It said Syrian Air Force jets operating from the base had destroyed an ISIS convoy.

The Twitter account of the US embassy in Syria said late on Friday that a US airstrike in Deir Ezzor had hit ISIS targets: three vehicles, an excavator and a training camp.

It was unclear whether the attacks took place near the base.

ISIS fighters control most of the Deir Ezzor province, but half of its capital of the same name remains in government hands.

The oil-rich province lies between the ISIS-controlled Raqqa province and the border with Iraq, and is a key prize for the jihadist group which declared an Islamic "caliphate" straddling the two countries in June.

Senior Iranian official confirms anti-ISIS airstrikes in Iraq

Meanwhile, a senior Iranian official has confirmed his country carried out airstrikes in neighboring Iraq against ISIS at the request of Iraqi authorities, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported.

It quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour as saying the strikes were not coordinated with the United States, which is also waging an air campaign against the militants who control large parts of north and west Iraq.

The purpose of the strikes was "the defense of the interests of our friends in Iraq", the newspaper quoted Rahimpour as saying in an interview in London.

"We did not have any coordination with the Americans. We have coordinated only with the Iraqi government," he said. "In general, every military operation to help the Iraqi government is according to their requests."

Rahimpour's reported comments were the first from an Iranian official confirming Iran's role in the airstrikes in the Iraqi province of Diyala, which borders Iran, in late November. On Wednesday an Iranian official had denied that Iran had launched any such strikes.

The Iraqi army, backed by Kurdish peshmerga and militias drove ISIS out of several towns and villages of the Diyala province last month.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said on Wednesday he had no knowledge of Iranian airstrikes. On Saturday, Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a security conference in Bahrain: "It's not 100 percent confirmed."

The Iranian role was first highlighted in footage filmed by Al-Jazeera news channel, which appeared to show an F-4 Phantom striking ISIS positions in Diyala. Defense experts said Iran and Turkey were the only regional operators of the F-4, and Turkey is reluctant to take on ISIS militarily.

"We will not allow conditions in Iraq to descend to the level of Syria, which has been created by foreign players," the Guardian quoted Rahimpour as saying, referring to Syria's catastrophic three-year war.

"And certainly our assistance (to Iraq) is stronger than our assistance to Syria, because they are nearer to us," he said.

Rahimpour said Iran was also assisting Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, but repeated Tehran's insistence that it did not have any ground troops in Iraq. "This is only an advisory presence. There is no need to send Iranian troops to Iraq. There are sufficient Iraqi and Kurdish troops there," he said.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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