BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants have launched a new push on a key military base in eastern Syria and seized a nearby missile facility, the group's media and activists reported Thursday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the capture of the facility and said intense clashes with government forces continued near the Deir el-Zour military base.
The Observatory, which relies on local activists, said at least 36 militants were killed in the clashes, including a child who was one of two suicide bombers who opened the way for the group's advance toward the missile facility. The group said the government responded with airstrikes.
The pro-IS Aamaq media outlet says the group captured the site of a rocket battalion overnight, about a mile (kilometer) away from the Deir el-Zour military air base, after two suicide bombings that targeted soldiers guarding the area. Aamaq said dozens of soldiers were killed in the attack.
The government, however, said it foiled an "infiltration attempt" by the group and inflicted heavy losses on them. The official news agency said IS fighters tried to sneak into the air base after detonating five explosives-packed vehicles at the eastern part of the facility.
IS, which controls much of Deir el-Zour province, has been trying to take over the base since late last year. If captured, it would eliminate the last major government presence in the province.
Syria's government lost its last remaining army base in the northwestern Idlib province on Wednesday to al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate and allied insurgents.
Activist Hadi Abdullah, who has been in touch with the rebels, said 60 government soldiers were captured. The group posted pictures of the captives and fighters posing before seized aircraft.
In Iraq, meanwhile, a series of IS suicide bombings targeting a military outpost in Anbar province killed eight soldiers and wounded 17 on Thursday, military and security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.